I was inspired to write this post while reading the book, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. What an amazing book! Just a few pages into this 1,000 plus page moving account of the “Great” migration of African Americans from the South to every part of this country, and something has hit me in a new and fresh way…my marriage, your marriage is black history.
We are the survivors of marriages that have endured unthinkable systemic stresses.
When I read the accounts of young men and women who found strength to leave all that they knew and strike out to the North, the East and the West it brings clarity to the strength of the Black family today. I think of my own grandparents who left Florida to head North with hopes of more for future generations. As we come to terms with all that black families have been through, the mere fact that we are strong and standing today is cause for celebration and inspired reflection.
For the last few years I have traced both sides of my family back to the early to mid-1800′s. Along the way I have had to imagine what they faced, like, why my dark, dark-skinned grandfather, who married my fair skinned grandmother, is listed on the marriage registry in North Carolina as “white.” Or the gaps I fill in, in my mind of my maternal grandmother’s wild accounts of taking trips to and through the south with their two young kids. As they located places for the kids to go to the bathroom, weeks before they even began the trip, and networking for places to stay with friends of a friend…
The marriages of the Jim Crow era were marriages of immeasurable strength by people of immense courage and fortitude. What they had, what it took to survive in marriages of the past did not just fall to the ground. Rather, it was passed on to us. Marriages today are historical markers, forever linked to the marriages of the overcomers of our ancestors.
The stories of our collective past, are our tutors. Here are a few lessons the courage, strength and fortitude of marriages of old give us.
1. Stick together. External pressures weighed on the marriage’s of old with a pressure and force that would””that does””drive couples of today apart.
2. Commit. Our families are worth fighting for.
3. Prayer. We make prayer so convoluted, so murky. It is where we seek wisdom and guidance from God – in our own words. Lord, I need help being a husband. Help me.
4. Hope. Couples of the 1920′s and 30′s had hope that what they were enduring was for future generations. Never lose hope for your spouse, for your children, for generations to come.
5. Stick together part 2. There was a time when couples needed other couples to take a trip or watch the kids while they were working, etc. It was in the collective strength of families “walking” through marriage together that many of those old marriages made it. In many ways we have become so insulated from each other, so skeptical of others that we are islands. Afraid to let our kids go to someone’s house because of what they might be about. Scared to talk about our challenges and tough decisions because of how they might look at us or use it against us. But somewhere, sometime we have to use wisdom to move toward building relationships with one or two couples that are likeminded in their approach to marriage and raising kids. When you are led into those relationships””stick together.
It is human nature that as time wears on, the things that once inspired our recognition start to just be commonplace. Martin Luther King’s birthday can become just a day off, with little reverence to the walk and work of the movement. Black History Month can become a month of elevated church services but not much else. But let’s encourage each other this month to remember that black married couples before us had to register the color of their skin as “white” just to be married. Husbands had to endure slave owners, overseers and planters having their way with their wives. Yet some kind of way, black marriages survived, endured and today we thrive.
I leave these reflections with a determination to allow my marriage to be worth the sacrifices the generations before me made in their marriage. I also am determined to allow my “black” marriage to become the history of fidelity, love and commitment for other generations to build on.
How about you BMWK, how can marriages today honor the marriages of the past?