I Married a Black Man
As a white college student in the 1960s, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. After 30 years of marriage, we wrote together Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, which describes the effect of racism upon his home country, comparing it with America’s racism. In it, he used examples from his experiences in the black community during the 1950s & 60s of housing discrimination. The following is an excerpt in his words:
Housing Discrimination: Student Housing at Michigan State
When I went to Michigan State University to finish my doctorate, the foreign studies department arranged for me to rent a room the first year since my family would be joining me later. I found the house. When a white woman answered to the door, I went back and paid the taxi driver and let him go. I told the woman, “I’ve been assigned a room here. My name is Benjamin Dennis.”
“You’re Benjamin Dennis? I don’t think you’ll be happy here. The other guests living here won’t like it.”
“Why don’t you let me decide that?”
“We have only two bathrooms, one on each floor. Your room’s on the first floor. I don’t think the others will want you to use the bathroom.”
“Let me see the bathroom. I like it clean. You knew I was coming more than two months ago. Why didn’t you write and tell me about all of these complications?”
“We thought you were Irish. Could you find another place?”
“Oh! So you can’t take black people.”
I walked over to the campus and found President Hannah’s house. His wife answered the door and called him. He told me, “Dr. Loomis has been talking about you. I’m happy you’re going to help his department with their research.”
“Mr. President, I don’t have a place to stay. They refused me.”
“Go back there and tell them you’ll take the room.”
I walked back. This time the woman’s husband told me, “We had two students signed up for that room. Sometimes people don’t show up. The other guy called yesterday and said he wants it.”
I walked back to the president’s house and told him what happened. He sent me to the housing department. The minute I walked in, the man at the desk said, “Mrs. Hannah just called. We‘ll have to nip this in the bud.” He called the couple and told them, “If you can’t accommodate this man, we’ll take you off the housing roster.” He sent me back over there.
This time the woman showed me the room and the bathroom. She said the towels were changed each week and told me, “We’re happy to have you. You must be tired. Would you like a cup o’ coffee?”
I stayed there the first quarter. The second quarter, I told them I was moving to Spartan Hall on campus. She said, “We don’t want you to go! You’re so nice, so clean and polite. If we’ve done anything wrong, we can fix it right now.”
I said, “I’m going to study.” It was too late.
Our Love Story
After my husband’s death in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story: Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.