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Couple Celebrates 50 Years of Once-Forbidden Love

While most young couples held hands on the streets, Laurence and Lena Nelson were forced to hide their relationship. In an era of segregation and blatant racism, it was a dangerous time for an interracial couple to be in love. But for Laurence and Lena, it was worth the risk.


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Like thousands of other couples, Laurence and Lena Nelson just celebrated their golden anniversary.

Most couples who’ve been together for that long have all kinds of cute stories about meeting up at the malt shop, going on hayrides, prom dances, and other charming tales of 1950s-style love.

Things were a little different for the Nelsons, though: When they went on dates, they met in secret, afraid they’d be arrested if they were spotted together. For years, they were forbidden from marrying, but when they finally eloped in November 1957, they told only their family members and close friends about the union.

While most young couples held hands on the streets, parading their love before the world, Laurence and Lena were forced to hide their relationship behind locked doors. In an era of segregation and blatant racism, it was a dangerous time for an interracial couple to be in love.

But for Laurence and Lena, their relationship was worth the risk.

Laurence and Lena began working at the same place in 1956, but it took months for Laurence to work up the nerve to ask Lena out. He was afraid that she would never consider dating an African-American man, particularly in a time when blacks were not even permitted to drink water from the same fountains as whites. But when Laurence finally talked to Lena, he realized he shouldn’t have worried.

“She didn’t look at me as black; I didn’t look at her as white,” Lawrence told The Arizona Republic. “Our hearts,” Lena added, “didn’t know the difference.”

Still, things weren’t easy for the Nelsons in those days, and they were forced to make many sacrifices – even their own families.

“My father… told me that if I married Lawrence I didn’t need to come home anymore,” said Lena. “I cried and tried to talk him out of it. But it never worked.”

Despite the difficulties they faced, the Nelsons know that their love was worth fighting for. And their two sons, Larry and Nelson, are proud of their parents for paving the way in the struggle for racial equality and acceptance.

“The sacrifices my parents made are tremendous,” Nelson said. “I don’t think I could do what my mother did, and anything I can do for my parents, I will.”

Originally published February 14th, 2008.

Filed under: Heroes, History,

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