The year was 1968. The Vietnam War was raging, Martin Luther King, Jr. had just been assassinated, and the students at Columbia University in New York City were furious.
My father, a professor at the university at the time, became increasingly fearful of losing his job; the level of unrest at Columbia was so extreme and frightening that he felt the school might simply shut down and cease to exist. He, with my mother in agreement, began to consider changing jobs, even if it meant moving to another state.
One day when I came home from school, I saw an unfamiliar man sitting in the living room with my parents. My father called me into the room and asked me to sit down; this gentleman was from the University of Texas at Austin and was interested in the possibility of my father teaching there. We’d have to move, of course, but Austin, the recruiter said, was a cool town and I’d be happy there because, with my miniskirt, paisley jacket, and wire-rimmed, sky-blue tinted glasses, I looked like a cool chick.
Both my parents were interested in this offer; they were always up for experiencing new adventures and unexplored opportunities.
They were stopped cold, however, in the middle of their research when they realized they might have to deal with the miscegenation laws designed to enforce the criminalization of interracial marriage.
In 1994, when I was sifting through my deceased parents’ belongings, I came across a three-page note, written in my father’s handwriting, which made it clear he had been researching this potential obstacle:
Columbia University never closed, my father remained teaching there (and actually won the Mark Van Doren Award for Best Teacher that year), and we went on with our lives in Greenwich Village as usual.
Years later my father told me how relieved he was that things had worked out the way they did, that he really hadn’t wanted to leave Columbia, and he reminded me of how much I’d wanted to stay in grade school with my friends and eventually graduate with the same 24 people I had gone to school with for the past seven years.
He never mentioned the miscegenation laws.