I just listened to This American Life on the radio. I am continually amazed at just how good this show is. They find so many compelling stories.
This week, Ira Glass interviewed Gene Cheek, who wrote a memoir, The Color of Love: A Mother’s Choice in the Jim Crow South.
In the early 1960s, Cheek’s divorced mother fell in love with Tuck, a black man. They lived in a small town in North Carolina, and the miscegenation laws were still on the books. They dated clandestinely, but eventually their relationship become known. The police would stop by regularly to harass them. After she had a baby by Tuck, her own family refused to have anything to do with her.
One day, Cheek’s mother went to court, in an attempt to collect child-support payments for Gene from his alcoholic father. When she and Gene got there, they realized that the case being heard was a child-custody case. She was given the ultimatum: give up her infant mixed-race son or give up her 12-year-old son. His father said that he couldn’t take Gene in, and neither could his uncle or his grandmother. Gene volunteered to leave his mother, and he was sent to a foster home. He began acting out and was eventually sent to a boy’s prison, 200 miles from home, where he spent five years.
Years later, after the ban on interracial marriages was overturned in Loving v.-Virgina, Cheek’s mother married Tuck.
I was horrified by this story, by the barbarity of it, by the racism. Thank God this can no longer happen.
Yet it does. Gay parents still have to contend with the presumption that they are unfit parents in more benighted parts of the country. Fortunately, Lawrence v.-Texas is overturning this presumption, but this issue is far from settled. The bigots are pushing to enact a Federal Marriage Amendment (HRC, Wikipedia) which would certainly affect custody rights for LGBT parents.