I Married a Black Man in the 1960’s

As a white college student in the 1960’s, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. In Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, which we published in 2009, he shared his experiences in the Negro community (including the severe fear of failure) during the 1950’s.

Fear of Failure in the 1950’s

Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

In his words:

At Lincoln University, I was a lab assistant in Chemistry. One day, I was trying to help a student heat a chemical over a Bunsen burner and record its boiling point. He simply couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I told him, “You’ll have to come back on Saturday. You can’t pass chemistry if you can’t do this simple measurement.”

He said, “You’re a n… just like me. You don’t know nothin’. You just come here. This is white folks’ stuff. Even if I learn to do this, I ain’t gonna get nothin’. I’m just gonna get a n… job.

“I’m not gonna kill myself, Ben. When I finish here, I’m gonna look for a job. If there’s another n… there who never went to college and they like him, they’ll hire him. Lotsa whites hire Negroes who have never been to college. They resent us as smart n…s.”

Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri

One time, I was sweet on a girl, but we never made it because she was so focused on taking me to all kinds of social activities. One day she told me, “You African! You don’t know anything! You can’t go anywhere. All you wanna do is study, study, study all the time. That’s not gonna get you anywhere. What you think?  You’re white?  You’re just a n… like the rest of us. It gets white people somewhere, but not us.”

The vast majority of professors were top-notch. However, there was a variation in student ability. I tutored a mulatto young man in math. I struggled for months just to get him to do common algebra equations. One day in frustration, I said, “Why do you want this education?”

“My parents! That’s our tradition.”

Slaves to Racism Book CoverI even asked the dean, “Can’t you just waive algebra?”

He said, “We can’t. It’s a requirement.”

So we struggled on. Finally the dean told me, “Ben, you’ve done well. We’re going to give him a C so he can graduate. It’s not your fault. His parents want him to do this. And as long as they’re satisfied, we’re satisfied. He’s not going into teaching and we won’t recommend him for graduate school or for anything.”

His parents gave him a brand new white Cadillac the day he graduated. They took us out to dinner. He told them, “He’s from Africa. If it wasn’t for him, I’d have been stuck there for years!”

St. Louis Negro Barber Shop

Yearbook Photo - Benjamin G. DennisIn St. Louis, I heard a barber tell the others in the Negro barber shop, “You see that guy, Benjamin, comin’ in?  He’s from Africa and he’s goin’ to the university! You know what university means?  It means you talk book-talk. You can’t even talk like that. They talk big, big words. You can’t even understand ‘em.”

One of the men said, “You mean he’s from Africa and he go to, what you call that?’

“University, N…! University! N…, you can’t even understand that.  This is a walkin’ book right here from Africa and he’s goin’ back too. He ain’t no n….”

Someone told the man next to him, “He’s goin’ to universal. He’s a universal student.”

negro barber shop - fear of failureThe barber laughed and said, “You n…s don’t know anything! I said university! Boy, you can’t even say ‘university.’ You better not go there. You won’t understand a thing. They won’t let any n… in but he’s from Africa. They’ll do anything for anyone but n…s, these peckerwoods.”

He told me, “Well, you’re an African, Benjamin. You ain’t no n…. N… knows n…. You ought to stay here and teach our people. They know you now.”

Our Love Story

All of my husband’s stories fascinated and saddened me at the same time because as an Ohio farm girl, I knew little or nothing about the tragedy of slavery and racism. To learn our love story, read Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief

Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis