Interracial couple almost kidnapped their own baby
"I’d like to dance with you" was the note John Billy was delivered to him kid this warm September night in 1954. John walked to the table where two girls were seated (where the note had come from) and reached out his hand to one of them. "I got your note", he told her. "Well, I didn't send a note. My girlfriend sent the note," answered Shirley. But it didn’t matter who sent the note because the two of them had an instant attraction.
John was black and Shirley white. And on their walk home, even before she got there, people had already called her mother telling her she was walking around with a black man. Mum of course told Shirley to keep off John but they continued dating. But the worst was yet to come…
She got pregnant.
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"I thought this was going to be the happiest day of my life," she said. "The next day, these people came into my room and said your child was taken from the hospital overnight and taken to St. Elizabeth's orphanage."
Then, it was a crime for a white woman to get pregnant by a colored man. And the punishment for this ‘crime’ was up to five years imprisonment.
“WHAT? FOR HAVING A BABY?” was Shirley’s reaction. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was like a nightmare for her. And she thought all that was gonna come to pass… IT DIDN’T….
She got arrested two weeks later.
"A grand jury had gotten together and decided that they thought I should go to jail for this crime," she said. "I just can't imagine that and I thought, ‘Nah, it's not going to happen. Nobody goes to jail for having a baby.'"
But she did.
"The first night in jail, I cried all night until I went to sleep," she recalled. Funny thing is: her black boyfriend John was off the hook because this particular law only applied to white women. Luckily, in 1957, the judge dismissed the charges against her, declaring the law to be unconstitutional.
Much as she was free, their son was still in the orphanage… they could only visit him. They missed that bond a baby and his parents require. "We were thinking about kidnapping him once," said John. "I told Shirley, ‘Let's just go and take the baby. It's our baby.'"
For them to get their baby back, Shirley had to get a job, find a home and marry John. And since under Maryland’s law it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry, John and Shirley drove to Washington D.C. and legally got married a year later and finally got their son back when he was 2. "When we did bring him home, he was like a kid in a stranger's house," said John. "Those real bonding days were gone. That's what hurt the worse," added Shirley.
According to the couple, faith and love is what kept them going. "She kept holding me up, I kept holding her up, and two things together being held up are going to stand tall," said John. Shirley has been the only person ever to have been arraigned in Maryland under that law. The couple lives in Baltimore and have another son and daughter and a book, 'Flavor: Faith Love and Victory Over Racism' narrating their story.
We sure have come far and such stories make us appreciate just how we cant take for granted little freedoms like being able to love and be with whomever we want freely.
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