When Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner hit the big screen in 1967, interracial marriages in the U.S. were rare. Most white parents would have found Sidney Poitier a shocking fiance for their daughters at the time; anti-miscegenation laws were just being struck from the books in some states, and less than 2 percent of married blacks had white spouses. Students of American race relations feared that blacks and whites would never marry each other in much greater numbers—even as the accelerating intermarriage rates of whites, Asians, Hispanics, Catholics, and Jews confirmed the power of the American melting pot.
A new study by Douglas J. Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute and Timothy S. Sullivan of Southern Illinois University, published in a recent issue of The New Democrat, shows just how far this most intimate of black-white relations has come since then. Focusing on new rather than existing marriages, they found a rapid rise in black-white nuptials. In 1980 less than 5 percent of all marriages involving at least one black brought together black grooms and white brides; by 1993 the figure was almost 9 percent. Over the same period, black brides with white grooms went from less than 2 percent of all marriages involving at least one black to nearly 4 percent. Overall for 1993, more than 12 percent of the weddings in which one or both partners were black were black-white.
Though the absolute number of such marriages remains relatively small, the remarkable jump in their frequency suggests, as Besharov and Sullivan put it, “a strong, unambiguous trend toward integration within American families.” Thus, while activists insist that only affirmative action and multiculturalism can span the country’s most serious racial divide, many blacks and whites are building more personal bridges of their own.