Jake and Mary Jacobs celebrated 70 years of blissful marriage last year, but they had to overcome many challenges to get there.
Jake was one of the few black men in the city where Mary, a White woman, and Jake, a Black man, lived in 1940s Britain even though they both lived there.
It would have been simple for Mary to leave, but she had fallen in love and would stop at nothing to be with her beloved, despite her father’s orders to do otherwise.
“When I told my father I was going to marry Jake he said, ‘If you marry that man you will never set foot in this house again.’”
At the same technical college where Mary was taking typing and shorthand classes and he was undergoing Air Force training, the pair had met when Jake immigrated from Trinidad during the war.
Jake struck up a conversation with Mary, who was then a resident of Lancashire, and she was impressed by his comprehension of Shakespeare.
He and his companion invited Mary and her friend to join them for a picnic, but a woman cycling by saw them and reported Mary to her father because she was horrified to see two English girls conversing with black guys. Mary was not allowed to visit her father again after he was startled.
When Jake returned to Trinidad they wrote to each other and a few years later he returned to the U.K. to get better paid work.
Jake surprised Mary by asking her to marry him; she was 19 years old and accepted but when she told her family they threw her out.
“I left with only one small suitcase to my name. No family came to our registry office wedding in 1948.”
Mary said while her father was ‘horrified’ that she could contemplate marrying a black man she didn’t realize that the rest of society felt the same way.
“The first years of our marriage living in Birmingham were hell — I cried every day, and barely ate. No one would speak to us, we couldn’t find anywhere to live because no one would rent to a black man, and we had no money.”
Even walking down the street together was difficult as people would point at them, Mary explained.
Mary fell pregnant and the couple enjoyed the excitement of knowing they would soon become parents but at 8 months she gave birth to a stillborn child.
“It wasn’t related to the stress I was under but it broke my heart, and we never had any more children,” she said.
Their lives did get easier with Mary working as a teacher and rising to assistant principle of a British school and Jake securing a job with the Post Office. They made new friends but Mary said she felt the need to explain to people that her husband was black before she introduced them to him.
“My father died when I was 30 and although we were reconciled by then, he never did approve of Jake,” she said.
Jake, who is 89 years old, and Mary, who is 84, currently reside in Solihull, a town south of Birmingham. They recently celebrated 70 years of marriage.
Jake claims he has no regrets, but he also claims that black youth today have no understanding how life was for him in 1940s Britain.
‘Subjected to abuse every day’
“When I arrived in the U.K. I was subjected to abuse every day. Once I was on a bus and a man rubbed his hands on my neck and said: ‘I wanted to see if the dirt would come off.
“And back then you couldn’t work in an office — because a black man in an office with all the white girls wasn’t thought to be safe.”
Despite all the challenges, bias, and abuse, the pair is still deeply in love and has no regrets about being married. They have been happily married for more than 70 years.
These two are a true inspiration, and I wish them a lifetime of pleasure because of the love they have for one another.