I came upon a box of a few dozen random—utterly random—photographs yesterday: family photos in NYC from a half-century before I was born, pics of my childhood on Long Island, my first wedding, my son’s earlier years, my summer camp, his summer camp, graduate school.
I scanned a few of them, put them back, and closed the box. I’ll open it in another decade or two, and be surprised again.
As I shuffled through the much older, fading photographs—some 100 years old—I paused and lingered over this one, taken 10 years before my birth.
It might seem fairly unremarkable looking at it now, but in 1957 even taking the photo must have been a very conscious choice, a statement about politics and society, about love and family.
It makes me think about the way societal acceptance shifts over time.
My parents, Rita Warmbrand Hemachandra and Neal Hemachandra (front row: left, right)—an interracial couple, Jewish-East European and African-South Asian, respectively—are visiting Hubert Dilworth (my Uncle Bill), a well-known singer in his own right and, later, Leontyne Price’s manager, and his partner, Augur Towne (back row: Augur on the left, Bill on the right), a gay interracial couple. They are posing in Bill and Augur’s Manhattan apartment.
Bill was like a big brother to my father and very close—family—to my grandparents, Balatunga and Leathe Hemachandra, as well.
It’s an amazing little 2-and-one-eighth by 2-and-one-sixteenth-inch, 63-year-old photograph, taken during the Eisenhower Administration.
I know a little bit about what my parents went through during their interracial marriage until my father’s death in early 1973. The costs were significant.
I can only guess—insufficiently—at what Bill and Augur lived through. They never talked about it. Neither did my mother. Maybe one of the ways for a gay interracial couple to survive during that era was not to talk about it, not to show it, and that sensibility might be resistant to change late in life. My mother also was not one for telling stories about harder times.
Actually, I don’t even recall knowing Uncle Bill was gay until I was a young adult.
All of which makes this photograph more important.
So I don’t know when Bill and Augur had started being a couple or living together, but I know their love and partnership were lasting, because they lived together for the rest of their lives, including moving from Manhattan to a small house in Rhode Island after retirement, all the way until Uncle Bill’s death in 1994.
I look at this photo, and I think back. I am humbled by each of them—by their bravery, their love, their determination, and their choice.
I also think forward: Which people, which choices, and which love will we all be more accepting of 63 years from now?
And how can we get there faster?