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When interracial love brought a palpable risk

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Peter Christian Hansen and Dame-Jasmine Hughes star in "Wedding Band"
Peter Christian Hansen and Dame-Jasmine Hughes star in "Wedding Band" at Penumbra Theatre.
Courtesy of Allen Weeks

Fifty years after the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, Lou Bellamy says Americans like to think we've come a long way — but an interracial relationship still raises eyebrows.

"Blacks and whites have different perspectives on many issues, of course," Bellamy said recently. "This interracial dating is one that they kind of come together on. Both groups say, 'Don't do that!' and no one listens to that, and everyone does whatever they're going to do."

Bellamy is directing the play "Wedding Band," which Penumbra Theatre is staging to mark the anniversary of the 1967 decision that struck down state prohibitions on interracial marriage.

Playwright Alice Childress set the story of "Wedding Band" in South Carolina in 1918, toward the end of World War I. Julia is a seamstress; Herman is a baker, the son of German immigrants. As the play begins, he brings her a cake to celebrate their 10th anniversary, even though there has been no wedding, and their relationship remains a secret.

Alice Childress’ play “Wedding Band.”
(Left to right) Darius Dotch, Austene Van and Dame-Jasmine Hughes star in the play that looks at how both white and black communities condemn interracial marriage.
Courtesy of Allen Weeks

"The sort of racial interplay and risk is really palpable," Bellamy said. "These people are taking a chance for love that we don't quite understand today, I think."

Bellamy's daughter, Penumbra Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy, said that  even though the story is set a century ago, it's still timely "because racial tensions in our country seem to be rising. So I think we want to figure out how to come together and think about how to love each other across the color line."

Interracial marriage is a topic for the Bellamy family. Lou Bellamy married his wife just a few years after Loving v. Virginia. He said their love taught them lessons they might not have had otherwise, and made them more compassionate.

"I remember when my wife first had to deal with having a brown child, and putting that child out in the world," he said. "Watching her negotiate that — it's a shame more of us don't get that opportunity."

Interracial relationships compel us to see ourselves in people who appear different on the surface, he said. Sarah Bellamy said she hopes "Wedding Band" will do the same. 

The play runs through Nov. 12 at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul.