About Marrying


W.E.B. Du Bois


January 1, 1930

Dear Mr. Du Bois:

I imagine in all appeals for your advice you rarely are called upon to aid Cupid, and certainly still more rarely for such a case as mine. Briefly, I am a white young man and am in love with a colored girl.

Now to give some details so you can better understand the situation. I graduated from –––– in 1924 and she from –––– in 1923. Since then she has taught in various colored schools and I have been here most of the time teaching music, taking some college work and occasionally doing music study in ––––. I now am 25 and she is 27.

My parents are friendly to Negroes and in –––– we associated with them to quite an extent. Because I inherited no racial prejudice I presume is one main factor in my “falling in love” with a colored girl. The first time I remember seeing her was in her high school Latin class when she was a Senior. I had a passing impression that she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She comes from one of the better colored families, of course, and is a light mulatto—too dark though to pass as white and I am of German-English descent with sandy red hair and could never pass for colored. So. The next time I remember her especially was at high school commencement when she took a $20 gold piece prize in English and was one of the honor students. I did not meet her until three years later when she was a junior in college—she 19 and I, 17. It was at her brother-inlaw’s home, with whom I was chumming at the time. Then the deed was done and I passed two or three of the happiest weeks of my life. This was around Christmas time and when I went home for the holidays the wrath fell in earnest—they had warnings of it before. With all my parents’ broadmindedness they, of course, drew the line at this not only because of race but religious reasons. I was brought up with conservative ideas on religion and to honor and obey my parents. Then began the struggle between obedience to my parents and my own desires. This struggle still continues. Of course, all our friends, colored and white, had their say—even the college and conservatory deans. They had no objections usually to her as a person but only because of racial difference.

Our interests are common—music and French. It is now six years since I have seen her but we have corresponded most of the time. I still love her as intensely as at first. I am sure she was in love with me too but, you probably know and feel more keenly than I just what the but means. Some people think from some gossip passed on to me that our relations were immoral. That is not so. As I said, I am conservative and my ideas of love, marriage and divorce and religion by the modern flaming youth would be considered hopelessly mid-Victorian, Puritanical, old fogey and all the other scornful terms applied to such. I do not smoke, drink, dance, play cards, rarely go to a movie and my relations with her were just as “narrow.” Of course, since I do none of the above I never have a good time! Singing Beethoven’s ninth symphony under Dr. –––– at ––––, playing a Chopin and Mendelssohn concerto with orchestra, listening to the club give the “Messiah,” playing the “Messiah” and “Elijah” for the chorus here, listening to Roland Hayes, speaking French, and studying with the most noted Composition teacher in –––– does not come under the category of “good time!”

But that is all beside the point. The point is I still am madly in love with her and want her to be with me to share all these good things, yes, and be the mother of my children.

I do not advocate racial inter-marriage in general. But, Mr. Du Bois, since she is more white than Negro why should she not marry white? It’s just as logical that way as the other. I think the standard of husband-wife relationship should be made principally on a spiritual and intellectual basis. We have had intellectual fellowship as I have said. She is more liberal in her social and religious views, but I think we agree on the fundamental—the God-Christ as atonement for sin. She is neat and attractive in her personal habits as I am. It is only the but that hinders.

I want your view on inter-marriage and advice as to whether you think I should persuade her to marry me. I feel we could manage somehow. Our friends and relatives would have to accept us willy-nilly. And anyhow we would not be marrying principally each other’s relatives. A great majority of mother’s folks I have not seen for twenty years and they mean nothing special to me. It’s her I want.

We would have our own social contacts to make as any newly married couple does with its own peculiar problems.

I have nearly written you several times for three or four years but never could get to the point of doing so. I presume I will act like a dear friend of father and mother’s whom I have heard them speak of very often when she asked for advice would say: “Now I want to know what you all think, but I will go ahead and do as I please afterwards.”

P.S. Can you recommend any book on the subject that will be helpful?

My Dear Mr. ––––:

I have your letter of September 23rd. My advice is that if you wish to marry the girl and she wishes to marry you, then get married.

I assume that both of you know exactly the kind of difficulties you are going to meet. I need hardly to rehearse them. You are going to have restricted social intercourse, naturally se far as the whites are concerned; but also, so far as the colored people are concerned. In this matter, they are just as prejudiced as the whites. You are going to meet more or less insult and embarrassment in public places, if your wife is dark enough to have her color noticeable; and finally, (perhaps this is the most serious), you are going to have difficulty in finding work or in keeping it if people know that you have married a colored woman. It will be practically impossible for you to find work in any college, white or colored.

These are all facts which you have got to face frankly. If, before you had fallen in love you had consulted me as to the possibility, I should have pointed out these facts and emphasized them and advised you to go no further. But now the question simply is, are both of you ready, in the face of this situation, to face a world “well lost for love”?

I know of no book which treats this matter sanely to any extent. Haldeman-Julius has just published a little Blue Book by Schuyler which takes up the subject. I have also treated it briefly in my book “Darkwater.”

And now, Reader—white, black, green or yellow, what do you say in answer to this letter? Answer and we will publish a few of the letters.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1930. “About Marrying.” The Crisis 37 (1): 28–29. https://www.dareyoufight.org/Volumes/37/01/about_marrying.html.