Unease follows couples who cross color line
Recent stabbing points up how far area has yet to come.
By Jefferson Strait
The Springfield News-Leader
July 29, 2001
Last year Kim Jamison was walking with her husband in Battlefield Mall when she noticed people staring.
“Is my hair sticking up?” she remembered thinking. “Is my makeup on funny?”
She asked her husband if there was lipstick on her face or something that would cause the people to be staring the way they were.
“No, Kim, we’re in Springfield,” Vernon Jamison replied calmly. The stares were because she was white and he was black.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I forgot.”
Stories like the Jamisons’ are not new. For years, interracial couples in the Ozarks have dealt privately with everything from stares that might only be curiosity to more direct encounters with prejudice.
Harold Tichenor and Kim Allen say they have had trouble finding baby sitters for their daughter, Talisha. Three years ago, the couple say, they spent a full summer trying to find a place to live — landlord after landlord appeared to be ready to rent to them when Tichenor applied; once he took Allen over, the apartments suddenly became unavailable. Edmée Rodriguez / News-Leader
But an incident involving two interracial couples and a group of white men in a Springfield restaurant last month has reminded the public of the pockets of discrimination — and the potential for violence — that have existed in the Ozarks for ages.
Maurice Wilson, 39, was stabbed after encountering a group of white men in a north-side Denny’s. Some of the men had swastika tattoos and Aryan Nation T-shirts, witnesses said.
Police at the scene said the crime seemed to stem from the fact that Wilson was a black man with a white woman. Though it happened nearly six weeks ago, no one has been charged. And emotions are still strong as activists hold a rally today to support the victims affected by the stabbing.
While hate crimes involving interracial couples are rare — police say there have been none other in recent memory — interracial couples say discrimination surfaces daily in other ways.
Experiences range from name-calling and an array of other comments to what seems to be a pattern of discrimination in one couple’s attempts to find housing and a baby sitter for their biracial daughter.
The subject is touchy; several
interracial couples declined to be interviewed for this article. One couple, who said they had never experienced racism, said they did not want to be identified because they know it exists.
All were outraged by the stabbing.
“I was just in shock,” said Kim Jamison, 26. “I couldn’t believe something like this would happen.”
Jeffrey Nash, head of the department of sociology and anthropology at Southwest Missouri State University, explained that “the kind of blatant thing that happened at Denny’s is unusual. But there’s still a kind of tension …”
Kim Allen and Harold Tichenor say they have felt the fallout from their interracial relationship of five years.
Tichenor, who is white, said he has been called names.
Allen said black friends don’t respect her as much as when she dated within her race.
The couple say they have had trouble finding baby sitters for their 19-month-old daughter. But both say the discrimination in Springfield was never as bad as three years ago, when they were searching for a place to live.
It was then they spent an entire summer being bounced around from place to place. It had to be because of race, they said. When Tichenor applied, landlords agreed to provide housing until he introduced them to Allen. It was amazing, he said, how quickly the previously vacant apartments became unavailable.
“I went first and everything was fine,” 30-year-old Tichenor said from a chair in Allen’s center-city home as daughter Talisha, 1, tottered about on the tawny carpet. “Then when I’d take Kim over there it was a different story.”
So Allen tried, but met with the same result when managers learned Tichenor was white, the couple said.
The mixed-couple hex occurred so many times that it almost became comical, they said.
Neither complained to authorities.
“We just look at it as ignorance,” said Allen, 28. “And I don’t think it’s ever going to change.”
Kim Jamison remembers the times she has been hurt by people’s ignorance.
As a young teen-ager she was embarrassed to have her mom’s boyfriend, who was black, drive her to school because people would stare. Later, she got to the point she didn’t even notice.
“He was like a father to me,” she said.
A few years later, while working one of her first jobs at a fast-food restaurant in high school, she was crushed when her boss made a racial slur about her boyfriend, who was black.
She let him know in very direct terms that what he said wasn’t appropriate. Then she quit.
A few years ago she was appalled when a man she knew well made a comment about her future husband.
“He said I was much too pretty and had too much to look forward to in my life to waste it by dating a black man,” she said. “I guess he probably thought he was doing me a favor.”
Although the Jamisons have learned to ignore most of the stares and comments thrown their way, 28-year-old Vernon Jamison says he’s acutely aware of the undercurrent of racism in southwest Missouri. It’s one of the reasons he says he doesn’t like to hold hands with his wife in public.
“I kind of expect it wherever I go,” Vernon Jamison said. “There’s at least one prejudiced person in here.”
Sociologist Nash knows just how deep that prejudice runs.
He found out a few years ago while conducting a study on racism in Springfield. In an attempt to survey local minorities, many whites became enraged when he and a team of students dialed numbers and asked if a black family were living there.
“We didn’t think people would be offended by asking if an African-American family was living at this address,” said Nash. “But they were.”
Nash said the Denny’s stabbing and other racially motivated crimes are not only traumatic for the victims; they have the side effect of painting Springfield as the kind of place where minorities are not welcome.
“These kinds of incidents — they’re terrible,” Nash said. “They’re awful. We can decry them. But at the same time they feed the reputation.”
Still, Nash, a white man who has been married for eight years to a black woman from Nigeria, believes the climate is changing.
“I think there’s a kind of awareness that we really need to do a better job as a community to be more including,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s coming from leaders or where it’s coming from. There’s just sort of an alignment that’s taking place.”
Though Allen believes the city is at a standstill in terms of race relations, she said she hopes that will change.
“I just pray and hope for the future ,” she said, “that there will be more equality for people, no matter what color they are.”
These sites are not part of The Springfield News-Leader Online Edition, and The News-Leader has no control over their content or availability.
The official website of the NAACP
The Multiracial Activist
Foundation for Interracial Couples
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