This is a shortened story from an episode of the podcast Neighbors. To hear the complete episode, go here. Gloria and Leroy Griffith met the same way that many couples meet in the South — at church. But when they started dating, they were an unusual pair. It was the late s in Tennessee, and interracial marriage had just become legal in the South.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, that opened the door for interracial couples to marry in the South. Gloria remembers the first time she laid eyes on Leroy. Leroy was the pastor at the church of Gloria's mother in Chattanooga.
Gloria was quite taken with the young pastor. She saw him smoking outside after his sermon, surrounded by women and thought he was out of her league. They got to know each other during hospital visits. Eventually, they went for a walk in the park. Next it was a movie date. She wore a miniskirt and sandals. An interracial couple was an unusual sight in Chattanooga, and people stared at them. By this point, it was the late s, and segregation was illegal.
The experience shaped him so much, that he applied to be the pastor of a black Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. Gloria also fought for social justice. Around the time she and Leroy met, she lost her job trying to unionize the nurses at the hospital where she worked. After about a year of dating, Gloria agreed to marry Leroy. But, her excitement was tinged by a looming reality. It would be a huge risk for her to marry a white man.
Her decision could put her entire family at risk. After a long discussion, her grandfather gave his blessing. But, not everyone was supportive. Even finding a church proved difficult. The church where Leroy worked was too small, so they asked two bigger Presbyterian congregations in town. Both turned them away. They decided to get married outside with a pastor from out of town.
But not all the calls were angry. About people showed up to the wedding, Gloria estimates, and all of them were there in peace. The event is believed to be the first legal interracial wedding in Chattanooga.
The Griffiths are glad that their wedding drew so much attention. She said, why don't you all elope? It is impossible, me marrying Leroy, to elope. I say this is bigger than he and I. A year and a half later, race riots erupted in Chattanooga. Leroy protested in the streets, while Gloria sat at home, in their white neighborhood, nursing their new baby.
A brick smashed through the window. Throughout the years, though, one thing has remained constant — Gloria and Leroy are married.
And, to this day, they fight for social justice.