The theme for African American/Black History Month for 2021 is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”
Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Wyatt, U.S. Army Europe and Africa advisor at the Equal Opportunity Program Managers Office, highlighted the Supreme Court ruling of Loving v. Virginia this year as a part of the celebration month’s focus on family diversity.
In this 1967 landmark civil rights decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that interracial marriage bans were unconstitutional. Mildred Loving, a Black woman of dual heritage, and Richard, her white husband, were sentenced to a year in prison for marrying in 1958. The unanimous Supreme Court decision overturned all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the U.S, stating those laws violated the Equal Protection Clause by restricting activity based on race.
More recently, Loving v. Virginia served as a part of the foundation for removing the last barrier to same-sex marriage in the United States. In 2013 Loving v. Virginia was cited as precedent in federal court cases on same-sex marriages. By 2015, the Supreme Court overturned bans on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“It is truly an inspirational story and needs to be talked about more,” Wyatt said. “Today interracial couples can just sign the paperwork to get married; but that wasn’t the case for the Loving’s. They had to endure so much to stay married.”
For two families in the German military community, Loving v. Virginia and other moments in Black history are poignantly connected to their contemporary lives.
The Tabbert Family
For some families, like Nathan and Jessica Tabbert, an interracial couple married for 15 years, the connection to Loving v. Virginia is obvious. “Only 40 years before our marriage there were states where it would have been illegal,” said Jessica, an administrative officer at USAREUR-AF. “My mom was alive when it was illegal.”
Nathan is an equal opportunity advisor for the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade and links some of his fondest family moments to Black History Month. “Some of my earliest memories of Jessica and the kids are related to Black history,” Nathan said. It was at a Black History Month celebration in Hawaii that Nathan met Jessica’s two children from a previous marriage, marking a turning point in the seriousness of their relationship.
Both Tabberts are quick to reminisce their family participation in Black History Month celebrations with their four children: meeting the Tuskegee airmen; playing Dorothy Dandridge in a performance; and even a 20-minute speech on the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia in 2017.
James and Bates Family
For Dr. Sturhonda James, Department of Defense cyber security specialist, and her fiancé, Shakima Bates, Loving v. Virginia is another historic example of courage in Black history.
James and Bates are planning their destination wedding for the summer of 2022, 10 years after they began dating. “The laws have changed,” James said. As lesbians PCSing to Hawaii in 2014, they did not have the right to marry according to state law.
James and Bates regularly vacation around historic and educational opportunities. “I believe you have to remember where you come from,” she said. James and Bates solidified their relationship on a road trip with James’ younger sisters and Bates niece to the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2012.
For Jessica, she looks beyond the broken barriers with her children as they talk about and navigate a complex world for children of mixed heritage. “I don’t want to think about the first Black anymore,” she said. “The second is really better.”
“I’m so grateful for those trailblazers, the Harriet Tubmans and Rosa Parks and the Martin Luther King Juniors of the world and what they did for us,” Jessica said. “But also the people we don’t talk about a lot.”
Today, the Loving family wouldn’t make headlines or be a topic of conversation. Like James and her partner, they would have planned their wedding with little consideration to marriage laws. Or, they’d be like the Tabbert family, busy with the demands of balancing jobs and children. “These were two totally unremarkable people, right?” Jessica reflected. “They just wanted to live and love each other and raise their family.”
Community observances for Black History Month, because of COVID-19, are limited to virtual events. Information about the virtual observances is available on the USAG Wiesbaden Facebook page. Information about this year’s theme can be found at https://asalh.org.