The Cartwright Collection and a Personalized View of Interracial Marriage

by Amanda Lima, Archives Assistant

For Women’s History Month, we continue our look at the papers of journalist and United Nations correspondent Dr. Marguerite Cartwright, which are being processed through support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

As archivists from the Amistad Research Center continue to work with the Marguerite Cartwright Papers, more information on this prominent journalist has come to light. Cartwright, a educator, journalist, United Nations correspondent, and professor, dedicated her life to continuous research on African American life. As a Black woman living in the United States, Cartwright’s dedication stemmed from her personal experiences living within a systemically racist society. What future researchers will come to understand is that Cartwright’s collection showcases a glimpse into the many issues faced by minorities of the past while also piecing together an image of the life that Cartwright lived.

Within the collection there are a number of scrapbooks with articles about interracial marriage. At the time that many of the articles were written, half of the United States outlawed interracial marriage. It wouldn’t be until 1967, as a result of the Loving v. Virginia case, that marriage between races would be legally acceptable in the U.S. The fears of whether the love between two people could outweigh the pressure of prejudice was a concern for many, including Marguerite Cartwright, an individual who publicly displayed her marriage to a white man since their union in the 1930s.

Article from 'Negro Digest' by Thyra Edwards Gitlin and Murray Gitlin titled “Does Interracial Marriage Succeed: Some questions that face an interracial couple” from the 1950s

Within the scrapbooks many questions stem from a general theme: Is it possible for interracial marriages to last? An article from the Negro Digest, written by Thyra Edwards Gitlin and Murray Gitlin in the 1950s, is titled “Does Interracial Marriage Succeed: Some questions that face an interracial couple.” Within the article the Gitlins pose several concerns, including “Are love, companionship, mutual respect and mutual interests sufficient for marriage?” especially in a country known for being “the melting pot, the land of science, enlightenment, and civilization.” They wonder whether their outside relationships, professions, and ability to find shelter would be sacrificed in the name of their love and how such a natural part of being human could lead to a life of destitution.

The same concern is showcased in an article written by George S. Schuyler in the 1949 issue of the Pittsburgh Courier as he tries to answer the question of why there are not more white men marrying Black women. One of his conclusions was that if a white man is not economically stable, or is in a profession that is held in the political sphere, he is more likely to decline a marriage with a Black woman in order to protect himself from social ostracization. Schuyler explains that it is not that the desire between Black and white individuals does not exist, but that the overarching pressure brought on by structural violence is preventing partnerships between people of differing races.

Article in the 'Pittsburgh Courier' by George S. Schuyler titled “Why Don’t More White Men Marry Negro Women?” from April 20, 1949

Other articles within the Cartwright collection expand upon the dangers of interracial marriage both socially and legally; how there was interpersonal violence in the Black community as Black individuals were choosing white partners, and also state-sanctioned violence as Black individuals were arrested and white individuals tested for insanity for enacting a marital union.

Cartwright was understanding of how both dangerous and socially isolating a marriage to a white man could be. In an article in Jet magazine titled “Negro Women with White Husbands,” she is quoted saying, “Ours is a marriage, period. Not a social experiment. Whether marriages succeed or not depends not on homogeneity of color but community of class, cultural, and social interests.” In a column for the Pittsburgh Courier, Cartwright defended interracial marriage regardless of the eventual negative responsive mail she would later receive.

Cartwright was married to her husband for over 40 years, reflecting a message from the Gitlin article: regardless of the pressures of society, a marriage of love can still thrive. As a researcher of multiple aspects of the African American experience, her research on the particular subject of interracial marriage demonstrates not only her strength as a researcher but also as an advocate for change and actor of her beliefs.

The Marguerite Cartwright Papers are being processed with support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission under grant RH-102791-19.

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