Monday, July 12, 2010

Another Side of Splendor

Detroit, 1963: Alberta Hunter, black, and Walter Stovall, white, arrive in town, five days after unsuccessfully attempting a marriage in Ohio, and seven days after graduating from the University of Georgia. At the University, Hunter and classmate Hamilton Holmes had been the two first black students accepted for enrollment, a desegregation that had been covered extensively by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker. Now, before they themselves settle in New York City, Hunter and Stovall go before a Detroit judge. They're accompanied by a young white couple, Harvey and Karen, who have traveled with them from Cleveland to serve as witnesses.

They are finally wed on June 8. Because of Hunter's history in the newspapers as a civil-rights figure, the marriage, secret for three months, becomes a mini-scandal in September—especially in Georgia, where such a union is illegal. Upon hearing of the marriage, Georgia Attorney General Eugene Cook responded, "We're waiting to put both of 'em in jail."

They never went to jail, of course. Alberta became better known as Charlayne Hunter-Gault; she was the first black staff member at The New Yorker, and a Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning broadcaster. While working at the New York Times, she successfully lobbied to have the paper change "Negro" to "black" in its standard usage. She and Stovall had a daughter before divorcing.

Harvey and Karen, the other young married couple who accompanied Hunter and Stovall from Cleveland to Detroit, were also divorced, in 1972.

Had the couples only met that week, when Hunter and Stovall breezed through Cleveland? There's nothing to suggest why their paths would have intersected, except that Harvey apparently made friends easily with out-of-towners. In June of 1963, he was working odd jobs, collecting records, writing reviews for Downbeat, and talking about comics with another new friend, a recent Philadelphia transplant named Crumb.

(Much of the above information, including the images, is from an extensive article by John H. Britton in the September 19, 1963, issue of Jet magazine.)


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