Couple Belatedly Celebrates Interracial Union

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Alvin and Omelia Garner were among the first interracial couples to be legally married in North Carolina. Last weekend, they celebrated their 40th anniversary with the wedding they have always wanted.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, track and field athletes compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. But first...

Unidentified Woman: Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you again, Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Van Garner.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIMON: Alvin and Omelia Garner renewed their wedding vows last Saturday. This time their wedding was a full-blown affair. When they were first married in 1968, it was a much quieter ceremony. Mr. Garner is white. Mrs. Garner is black. They're one of the first interracial couples to be legally married in North Carolina just a year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriages.

They've just returned from their second honeymoon. They join us now from the studios of member station WUNC in Chapel Hill. Thanks so much for being with us.

MR. ALVIN GARNER: It's good to be with you today, Scott.

SIMON: What was it like to be married 40 years ago?

Mr. GARNER: I think it was a bigger deal for other folks more than it was for us. We fell in love, chose to get married and ran into some bumps along the way. But as far as we're concerned we had a normal marriage.

SIMON: Mrs. Garner, as I understand it, you were working at a restaurant.

MRS. OMELIA GARNER: Yes.

SIMON: And what happened?

Mrs. GARNER: He was working there too. The boss took him around, showed him the place, and he asked him, anything he want to know, ask Amelia. And one day I just told one of my co-workers that one day, I'm going to get that guy, and she went and told him.

SIMON: Oh, my!

Mr. GARNER: The person came back and told me what she said, and I said, send her up.

SIMON: How did your families react?

Mrs. GARNER: My family reacted OK.

Mr. GARNER: I had mentioned that to my mother over a telephone call and evidently she didn't quite understand what I said, so I'd gone home for Christmas, and we were sitting there talking one night and I made the statement to them that we had gotten engaged and that might be a little bit rough since she was black. And at that point my dad walked out the door.

SIMON: Tell us what it was like to be a white man and a black woman married in North Carolina in the late '60s?

Mr. GARNER: Well, that's the interesting part about it. We had friends that were interracial couples that we knew before we got married. One couple had warned us about all the problems that we're going to have and that we wouldn't be able to shop anywhere or do anything. The other ones were more carefree and said, just go for it. Of course, the day we got married we got married in the small parson that's next to the church. We came out and the streets were lined with people...

Mrs. GARNER: Black and white.

Mr. GARNER: It was kind of funny when we came out to see all those people there. We just went out. We got in our car and started driving off and nobody was saying anything as far as, you know, heckling or anything like that. People started blowing horns. We blow our horn back.

SIMON: Mr. Garner, did your family eventually come around on the matter of Omelia?

Mr. GARNER: Four years later, I was at work one night. My wife was at home. She got a phone call and it was my mother. And she was looking for me, and it's - first time my mother had spoken directly with my wife.

SIMON: I've been told, Mrs. Garner, that you and your mother-in-law eventually became pretty good friends.

Mrs. GARNER: Very good friends. When they came up to meet me, we got friends there. When they left we were very good friends. And she got sick and I would go down there and stay with her and you know, help her out. I was friend to her, my father-in-law, too. He was nice to me, too.

SIMON: Mrs. Garner, being married for 40 years in this day and age, what a wonderful accomplishment!

Mr. GARNER: There were a lot of reasons why people say it wouldn't work. One being just the race itself. I mean, my only family basically said it wouldn't last six months. We had to be sure what we were doing when we sat down and made those vows to each other, and we did.

Mrs. GARNER: And on my 25th anniversary my father-in-law came to me and he said, Omelia, this is the marriage I thought wasn't going to work but it's work better than any children I have, so...

SIMON: It's been an honor to talk to both of you. May I say, I'm so happy for you.

Mrs. GARNER: Thank you.

Mr. GARNER: Thank you.

SIMON: Alvin and Omelia Garner. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GARNER: I was glad to do it.

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