On a perfect Sunday afternoon, gospel music blared beyond the parameters of a wooden picnic shelter in Alton Baker Park as Randy Ross bounced around the picnic tables in a straw hat with a baby in his arms. His newly born grandson was dressed in a tie-dyed onesie.
Ross was everywhere: playing the drums, hugging newcomers and struggling under the weight of the children who had hopped onto his back.
His wife, who was singing in the choir, watched with some amusement. The couple have raised 10 children together.
“We have his, mine and ours,” Sarah Ross said. “His kids, my kids and ours. We had four kids together. Altogether there’s about 10 with also other people’s kids that we raised.”
So as the father of 10 and a black man in an interracial marriage, Sunday was Ross’ day.
Sunday was Father’s Day, but it also marked Eugene’s delayed celebration of Loving Day, the anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage.
On June 12, 1967, the Virginia v. Loving Supreme Court case allowed Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, to get married in the state of Virginia — or anywhere in the country.
The Eugene nonprofit group H.O.N.E.Y. (Honoring Our New Ethnic Youth) has been celebrating the holiday since 2004. This year, it brought out Eugene’s Inspirational Sounds Gospel Choir to serenade a tight-knit group of interracial couples and their friends.
There were cakes — one vanilla and one chocolate — and a blend of people of all races, laughing, playing games and listening to gospel and jazz music so loud that they nearly shouted to talk with each other, but no one seemed to mind.
H.O.N.E.Y. started in 1985, with Sarah Ross and a couple of her friends. It was a place for interracial families to feel safe.
“They were all white ladies who had all mixed kids, and they wanted a place to get together and hang out and talk,” Sarah’s daughter Niyah Ross said. She also is in an interracial marriage.
Sunday’s event felt like an extension of this idea. Children were running around, couples were leaning on each other, and friends were smiling and laughing. There was a felt appreciation for the freedom that came about on Loving Day.
“The Supreme Court case happened 50 years ago,” James Houghton said through a microphone, after the Inspirational Sounds had finished their set. “That blows my mind. That wasn’t that long ago.”
It was Houghton’s first Father’s Day with his newborn son, Legend, his first child with his wife, Niyah Ross. Together the couple care for six children, all of mixed race.
“We have a whole mix, so we look great going downtown,” Ross said.
Ross and Houghton say that they’ve had mostly positive experiences as an interracial couple in Eugene.
But Ross’ mother, Sarah Ross, said that Eugene was a far different city when she and Randy got together in 1977, just a decade after they legally were allowed to marry.
Sarah Ross said that people would shout racist names at her family on the street, and the environment for interracial couples was not nearly as welcoming as it is today. Though, after last year’s presidential election, Ross said she’s noticed renewed evidence that hostility toward mixed-race relationships still exists.
“It seems to me that whenever there’s racial polarization, people in the black community go into their own camp, and the whites go into their own, and it leaves interracial families in this kind of strange place,” Ross said.
Racial tensions make events like Sunday’s important, but the true notion of Loving Day is in the name itself.
“This is our day, and it’s about love. Period,” said Jerry Vrzak, a member of the Inspirational Sounds choir and husband to the choir’s director, Kathy Vrzak.
Kathy, who is black, and Jerry, who is white, met 17 years ago through the choir. “I was in the soprano section and he was in the tenor section, and it just became a gospel choir romance,” Kathy Vrzak said.
The Vrzaks feel that their relationship sends a positive message to younger interracial couples.
“They see an older couple that’s been together for years and years, and that’s kind of encouragement to the younger people to love who you love,” Kathy Vrzak said. “It doesn’t matter your race. Love goes deeper than skin.”
June 12 officially was declared Loving Day this year by a proclamation from Mayor Lucy Vinis. Interacial partners Deborah McDaniel, who is of Chinese heritage, and Ronald Blanton, who is white, lobbied the Eugene City Council to make a proclamation for the day. After an infection in his foot put Blanton on bed rest, he wrote multiple letters to the council’s office and eventually received one back from Vinis with an official proclamation — gold seal and everything.
Blanton got out of bed just so he and McDaniel could make it to the event.
“We each have a vision of what life could be: a multicultural, very diverse society,” Blanton said.
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This article was first published here