To say Chip Edgeworth's father was unhappy about his son's marriage would be an understatement. Chip, who is white, says that when his dad learned he had fallen in love with a black co-worker named Yvette, the elder Edgeworth threw his son out of the house the family owned in Birmingham, Ala., and refused to speak to him. The reaction didn't surprise Chip. "I was raised so I couldn't stand the sight of black people," he confesses. "I was the biggest racist you ever saw." But then he met and fell in love with Yvette, a divorce with three children. "She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen," Chip recalls, "and she had a real intellectual spark to her." Yvette, for her part, was impressed by "what a remarkably generous person he was." After dating for a year, they got married in 1994.
Once a social taboo, love across the color line is becoming increasingly common. The number of interracial marriages in the U.S. has leaped almost 1,000% since 1967, when a landmark Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, voided state antimiscegenation laws that forbid unions between the races. Today there are more than 2 million interracial marriages, accounting for about 5% of all U.S. marriages, and almost half a million of them are between blacks and whites.
Yet even after the Loving decision, which required the state of Virginia to recognize the marriage between a white man and a black woman, Richard and Mildred Loving, the resistance to mixed nuptials in the South seemed to stay as firm as the reverence some there still have for the Confederate flag. It was only three years ago that Alabama became the last state to drop its (unenforceable) ban on mixed marriage, and it did so with just a 60%-to-40% vote by residents to make the change.
Of course, interracial intimacy has been a fact of life in the region since African slaves first arrived in the U.S.--and white slave owners like Thomas Jefferson began sneaking into the slave quarters at night. But what used to be branded clandestine lust has finally evolved into sanctioned love: black-white interracial marriages in Alabama have more than tripled, from 297 in 1990 to 1,000 in 2000, or about 2.5% of the married couples in the state. An additional 1% of Alabama marriages are unions also involving Asians, Latinos and Native Americans. "It's out of the bigots' hands," says Darryl Clark, a black mechanic in Birmingham who married a white woman 11 years ago. "It's gonna keep spreading."
Sociologists say the rise of an educated black middle class, the Sunbelt migration boom, "reverse migration" by blacks from the North and the fact that the U.S. military--most of whose bases are in the South--has become one of the country's most integrated institutions have increased opportunities for blacks and whites to interact as equals and develop romantic relationships. These factors combined to help join the Edgeworths. Yvette, 35, a claims auditor at the Social Security Administration in Birmingham, grew up on air bases in California and Germany before her family moved to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., in the 1980s, when she was a teenager. She and her first husband, who was white, had three children before divorcing in 1993. "In the military, everybody's pretty much one color these days," she says.