<Interracial Marriage and State Laws>
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Calvin Ruff and Libby Lightburn
Start Year : 1885
Calvin Ruff, who was white, was the son of J. Q. Ruff, a wealthy man in Galveston, Texas. Libby Lightburn was an 18 year old mulatto who had moved from Texas to Louisville, KY. In 1885, Ruff arrived in Louisville to ask Lightburn to be his wife. Interracial marriage was illegal in Kentucky, so the couple was married in New Albany, Indiana, where interracial marriage was also illegal, but since both were unknown, Ruff was able to purchase the marriage license as a Colored man. The state of Indiana had an 1840 law that made all white-black marriages null and void, and for those who married after the law was passed, if caught, the charge was a felony with the penalty of 10-20 years in the state prison. For more see "Marriage of Black and White," The New York Freeman, 06/27/1885, issue 32, Col. F; and T. P. Monahan, "Marriage across racial lines in Indiana," Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 35, issue 4 (Nov., 1973), pp. 632-630.
Subjects: Migration East, Interracial Marriage and State Laws
Geographic Region: Galveston, Texas / Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / New Albany, Indiana
Birth Year : 1814
Death Year : 1888
Letitia Carson was a free African American woman who was born in Kentucky. She was one of the early African Americans to be listed in the U.S. Federal Census as living in Oregon. Letitia's husband was an Irishman named David Carson (1800-1854). The pioneering couple and their two children lived in Benton, Oregon Territory, according to the 1850 U.S. Federal Census. The couple had come to Oregon in 1844, and their daughter Martha was born around 1845, their son Adam around 1853. When David Carson died, Letitia and her children were left out of his estate settlement, and Letitia filed suit against the estate for her children's benefit. She won the lawsuit and settled on land she had purchased near South Myrtle Creek, today known as Letitia Creek. She is buried on the property. Letitia Carson was a well known mid-wife in the county. The Letitia Carson Pioneer Apple Tree was named in her honor; it is thought that Letitia planted the tree, and researchers named the tree while completing a cultural resource inventory of the property owned by Oregon State University. For more see R. Casebeer, "African American widow demonstrates spirit," Jefferson Public Radio, 08/20/2009 [available online]. Or, listen to the Letitia Carson story online on "As it was: Tales from the State of Jefferson," Jefferson Public Radio, 08/20/2009.
Subjects: Medical Field, Health Care, Migration West, Interracial Marriage and State Laws
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Benton County, Oregon
Birth Year : 1875
Death Year : 1952
Henry Clayter was the son of Lizzie McGee and John Clayter. In 1906, Henry Clayter, described as a mulatto with white skin, attempted to elope with 15 year old Ora Gardner, a white hotel waitress. They had been seeing each other secretly at the hotel for two years. Clayter was about 30 years old and an Army veteran who, according to the U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, had served in the 24th Infantry, 1901-1904. He had just returned from the military when he took up with 13 year old Gardner. Interracial dating relationships in Kentucky had led to the lynching of African American men. Marriage between Blacks and whites was illegal in Kentucky for all involved, including the licensing clerk and the minister or judge. Clayter and Gardner attempted to get a marriage license in Illinois in 1906 but were denied because Gardner was underage. They were living together in Chicago at 563 State Street when both were arrested and taken to Louisville, KY. The authorities feared that Clayter would be lynched if returned to Irvington, KY, where he was to stand trial. The news of the couple's return to Kentucky had led to threats of violence between whites and Blacks in Irvington, and there was fear of a race riot. The whole affair of Clayter and Gardner was described as sensational and extraordinary in the newspapers. With extra security in place, Clayter was tried in Irvington and found guilty of carnal knowledge of a female less than 16 years old. He was sentenced to the maximum of 20 years in prison, but the sentence was later commuted by the governor; Clayter was released from Eddyville Prison in 1911. He married Mary Miller in Indiana in 1915 and died a widower in 1952 in Louisville, according to the Kentucky Death Records. Gardner was placed in a reform school and at the age of 18 was living at her parents' home in Hardinsburg, KY, according to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census. For more see chapter 2, "Race Relations" in A History of Blacks in Kentucky, by M. B. Lucas and G. C. Wright; "Negro lover," The Breckinridge News, 08/01/1906, p. 8; and A. Avins, "Anti-miscegenation laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: the original intent," Virginia Law Review, vol. 52, issue 7 (Nov. 1966), pp. 1224-1255.
Subjects: Military & Veterans, Interracial Marriage and State Laws
Geographic Region: Hardinsburg and Irvington, Breckinridge County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois / Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky
Conley, Nellie [Madam Sul-Te-Wan]
Birth Year : 1873
Death Year : 1959
Nellie Conley, an actress, was born in Louisville, KY, the daughter of Silas Crawford Wan and Cleo de Londa. In 1983, she was posthumously inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Conley went by the name Madame Sul-Te-Wan, acting in early films such as Birth of a Nation and later films such as Carmen Jones and Tarzan and the Trappers. Prior to moving to California and acting in films, Conley had moved from Louisville to Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, she formed "The Black Four Hundred," an acting company that employed 16 performers and 12 musicians. The company was successful, as was a minstrel company that Conley established. Conley soon married and eventually moved to California. Two years later, she had just given birth to her third son when her husband left her. Her money was gone, so for a period of time Conley had to rely on charity. Times got better when she was hired by Kentucky native D. W. Griffith for the movie The Clansman; her pay was three dollars a day and increased to five dollars a day. She and D. W. Griffith remained friends for the rest of their lives, and she had bit parts in seven of his films. She also continued to perform in vaudeville, silent films, and talkies [films with sound]. In 1949, Conley married Anton Ebenthur, who was French; the couple married five years before interracial marriages were legal in California. According to writer Victor Walsh, Conley and Ebenthur were active members of Club Miscegenation in Los Angeles. [It has also been written that Conley was the mother of Ruby Dandridge (1900-1987) and the grandmother of Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965).] For more see Biography Index. A cumulative index to biographical material in books and magazines, vol. 18: Sept. 1992-Aug. 1993; Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, 1st ed., by E. Mapp; The Negro Trail Blazers of California, by D. Beasley; and V. Walsh, "Women's History Month: Madame Sul-Te-Wan; Hollywood's first African American actress," Oakland Post, 03/19/1997, p. 8.
See photo image and additional information about Nellie Conley at BlackPast.org.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Businesses, Migration North, Migration West, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Grandparents, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Interracial Marriage and State Laws, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio / California
Eilers v Eilers [Anna F. Anderson]
Start Year : 1964
In September 1964, eight months after Anna F. Eilers married Marshall C. Anderson, the courts took her five children away. Anna, who was white, was from New Haven, KY. She had divorced her previous husband and father of the children, George Eilers, in 1963. Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Lyndon R. Schmid awarded custody of the children to Anna. In January 1964, Anna and Marshall C. Anderson, an African American musician and restaurant employee, were married in Chicago, IL. [Marriage between the races was still illegal in Kentucky and 17 other states.] When they returned to Louisville, KY, the couple lost their jobs in retaliation for their marriage. George Eilers sued to have the children taken away from Anna, and Judge Schmid had the children placed in a children's institutional home. Anna and Marshall moved to Indianapolis, IN, in 1964, by which time the two oldest children had been placed in foster homes. Prior to their move, the Andersons had retained Attorney James Crumlin of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. to help regain custody of the children. The custody case took place during the same time period that the Virginia Supreme Court had upheld the state's anti-miscegenation law in the Richard and Mildred Loving case [NY Times article]. The Andersons' custody case went to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1966, where the Appellate Court upheld the ruling of the Jefferson County Circuit Court. The case was next taken to the federal court where it became national news; it was the first appeal to the federal courts on constitutional grounds for child custody. The Andersons' case was temporarily linked to the Lovings' case, which was pending in the federal courts, and the results were expected to be landmark decisions. The link was broken when District Judge Henry L. Brooks declined to take jurisdiction over the Andersons' case because it was determined that the mother had not exhausted her appeals in the Kentucky courts, and the indirectness of the attack on the Kentucky miscegenation laws was a weakness of the case; therefore, there was no federal question. For a third time, the Anderson case was brought before the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The court reversed the judgment for proceedings consistent with the opinion. "No reason appears which would warrant interference with the custody order from which this appeal was taken. That order shall remain in effect until further order of the trial court or any court of competent jurisdiction." For more see F. Ward, "Mixed couple suffers ordeal," Jet, 04/07/1966, pp. 46-49, and "Mixed couple losses custody bid," Jet, 10/27/1966, p. 15 [both articles available full-text at Google Book Search]; B. A. Franklin's articles in the New York Times: "Kentucky facing race custody suit," 03/25/1966, p. 29, and "Judge bars case of miscegenation," 06/26/1966, p. 30; "N.A.A.C.P. to fight ruling on custody," New York Times, 07/08/1966, p. 12; and Anna Frances Eilers (now Anna Anderson), Appellant, v. George F. Eilers, Appellee, Court of Appeals of Kentucky, 412 S.W.2d 871: 1967 Ky, March 17, 1967.
Subjects: Mothers, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Court Cases, Interracial Marriage and State Laws
Geographic Region: New Haven, Nelson County, Kentucky / Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois
Oliver, Joel Peter, Jr. and Wilma
Start Year : 1939
In January of 1939, Dr. Joel P. Oliver, Jr. (1903-1958) and a woman named Wilma, who was white, were arrested in Louisville, KY, for violating the Kentucky statute that prohibited interracial marriage. The couple may not have known that there was an anti-miscegenation law in Kentucky. The more they explained why they were in Kentucky, the more their story changed. With a reminder about the law, the couple told the police that they had not gotten married in Kentucky, but rather, they had married in New Mexico two years earlier. Both Dr. Oliver and Wilma were taken into custody from the Negro hotel where they were guests. Since the mid-1800s, Kentucky laws prohibited whites from marrying Negroes within the state [the statute was repealed in 1967]. The law did not apply to those who had married outside Kentucky. The couple explained that they were not from Kentucky, but that they were just passing through the state; they were driving from Lubbock, TX, to Chicago, and had stopped to rest in Kentucky. Dr. Oliver, who practiced medicine in Texas, told authorities that he had just passed the Illinois medical examination and was moving to Chicago to establish his new practice. Nonetheless, both he and Wilma were put in jail, each under a $5,000 bond, and there would be additional charges. Louisville authorities contacted the Lubbock authorities for background information on the couple. It was found that they each owned the car that they had driven to Kentucky. Dr. Oliver's car, however, bore a license plate that came from another car that he owned. When police searched the cars, they found weapons, drugs, and a large sum of money. It was also found that Wilma was not Dr. Oliver's wife [her last name was not printed in the newspaper articles]. Dr. Oliver was born in Texas, and had practiced medicine in New Orleans before moving to Texas with his actual wife, Frances Mouton Oliver, a beautician who was the youngest sister of Jelly Roll Morton. Dr. Oliver had a medical practice and a sanatorium in Lubbock, TX. His wife Frances (1900-1982) had owned a beauty parlor, and the couple lived at 2112 E. Avenue B, according to the 1936 Lubbock City Directory. The news of the arrest of 35 year old Dr. Oliver and 27 year old Wilma had spread quickly in Louisville; Dr. Oliver knew a few people in the city. When the couple appeared in police court, the room was packed with Negro supporters. To the spectators' surprise, the couple was cleared of four misdemeanor counts: violating Kentucky's prohibition against interracial marriage; adultery; carrying concealed weapons; and disorderly conduct. There were no further questions about the money since Dr. Oliver was a respected physician who treated both Negroes and whites in Lubbock. The crowd cheered in response to all the good news. However, Dr. Oliver and Wilma remained under a $5,000 bond for violating the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 and were to appear in court on February 7, 1939. Dr. Oliver returned to his wife and home in Texas. He died in 1958, according to the Texas death index, and after his death, his wife Frances moved back to New Orleans. For more see "Negro doctor and white wife held in Kentucky," The Coshocton Tribune, 01/27/1939, p. 12; "Negro doctor, companion held," Lubbock Morning Avalanche, 01/27/1939, p. 2; and "Negro doctor, white wife cleared of misdemeanors," The Coshocton Tribune, 01/31/1939, p. 1. For more on Francis Oliver see P. Hanley, "Jelly Roll Morton: an essay in genealogy."
Subjects: Medical Field, Health Care, Court Cases, Interracial Marriage and State Laws
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / New Orleans, Louisiana / Lubbock,Texas
Theophanis v. Theophanis
Start Year : 1932
On June 24, 1932, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky affirmed the judgment and cross-appeal of the Franklin Circuit Court in the case of Theophanis v. Theophanis wherein Lillian Theophanis was given absolute divorce from George J. Theophanis. She was awarded $1,000 alimony and $100 in attorney's fees. The couple had been married in Cincinnati, OH, December 14, 1922, when George was 32 years old. Born in Elova, Greece, he came to the U.S. in 1905. He had lived in Frankfort, KY, since 1909 and became a U.S. citizen in 1914. Lillian was about 22 years old at the time of their marriage; she was previously married to Ralph Myers of Cleveland, OH. Her family was from Richmond, KY. Lillian was the daughter of Betty Walker Foos and Edward Foos, who was white. Betty Walker Foos was the daughter of Joel J. Walker, who was white, and Mary Jane, a former "servant" who had belonged to Joel Walker. Joel and Mary Jane Walker had several children, some of whom had African American spouses, and some had white spouses. Mary Jane Walker and here children had been considered Colored by the people of Richmond. Kentucky Statutes, Section 2097 (2) forbids marriage between a white person and a Negro or mulatto. In recognition of the law, George Theophanis had prosecuted a cross appeal to the Franklin Circuit Court judgment, stating that he and Lillian were never legally married because she was a mulatto; therefore, the courts had erred. At the same time, Lillian challenged the courts judgment by seeking to increase the alimony to $14,000 and the attorney's fees to $1,500. The Court of Appeals of Kentucky found that there was no evidence that Lillian was of pure Negro blood. Her grandmother, Mary Jane Walker, may have had Negro blood, but she was not of pure Negro blood based on her physical traits: long straight hair, a straight nose, high cheek bones, and thin lips. Since Mary Jane Walker was not of pure Negro blood, her granddaughter, Lillian Theophanis, could not be considered a mulatto and her marriage to George was deemed valid, and the Frankfort Circuit Court's judgment in the divorce case was affirmed. The Court of Appeals of Kentucky also found that Lillian's estate was sufficient enough that the Franklin Circuit Court's allowances were justified and therefore affirmed with no increase in payments. For more see Theophanis v Theophanis, Court of Appeals of Kentucky, 244 Ky. 689; 51 S.W.2d 957; 1932 Ky.
Subjects: Court Cases, Interracial Marriage and State Laws
Geographic Region: Elova, Greece / Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky / Richmond, Madison County, Kentucky