Monday, June 04, 2007

Speaking of Interracial Loving

As I begin the countdown for the Loving Decision Conference 2007, I thought why not write about some groovy, important, interracial relationships, past and present, that deserve celebration. Because really, how often does that happen in real life?

It's ironic really that there ever even existed anti-miscegenation laws since it never stopped people of different races from falling in love or even marrying for that matter. History is full of romance and relationships across color lines, but many historians would like to conveniently delete them from our collective memory.

This weekend, while strolling through the Philadelphia Museum of Art I discovered the artwork of William H. Johnson. Johnson was an artistic genius, born in South Carolina in 1901. I'd known of Johnson only as a painter of the Harlem Renaissance who grew frustrated with America's hostile racial climate and so he escaped to Europe.

Indeed Johnson did find the freedom he longed for in Europe to pursue his art as an artist instead of the suffocating label of Black artist. He ended up living for sometime in Denmark where he met his wife, Holcha Krake, a textile artist more than a decade older than himself.

In Denmark, in the tiny fishing village Johnson and Krake called home, the locals were more surprised that Krake had married at age 44. The fact that her husband was a Black man was inconsequential in their eyes. Johnson and Krake supported and influenced each other's work, sometimes they collaborated on pieces and eventually the couple moved to New York City. Krake, reportedly faced far more criticism in the US for being a Black man's wife than Johnson ever did in Europe. Still, their passionate love for one another seemed to sustain them and their art in the face of America's "race problem."

The end of their romance is tragic. Holcha Krake died of breast cancer, circa 1944. Soon after, around 1946 Johnson was diagnosed with "syphilis-induced paresis," which basically meant his brain turned to mush over the next 20 years, leaving him completely without memory of his former life or loves.

If you get a chance, look into the art of William H. Johnson, not because he married a White woman, but because he was a man who refused to allow the color of his skin to limit his passions.

Peace Out and keep Loving!

(illustration by William H. Johnson titled "Cafe" )


cloudscome said...

Do you know the book Lil' Sis and Uncle Willy by Gwen Everett? It's a great biography of William H. Johnson for kids. I read it to second grade every year.

lori said...

Thanks Cloudscome,

I'm really digging William H. Johnson and am trying to get my hands on everything about him. I'll try to find a copy of Everett's book.

It's funny, he was just a footnote in a documentary I was watching and now I'm realizing what a rare gem and artistic genius he really was.