I am better senator because of marriage

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2017

It’s been 47 years. And 47 years is a long time. It is a long, long time if one is in politics. However, I am not really talking about politics. But politics is the context within which most of these 47 years have occurred. I am talking about 47 years of marriage as of Jan. 23, 2017.

Marriage usually involves struggle. But the benefits are well worth the struggle. Marriage is even more of a struggle within the context of elected office. I have been a member of the Alabama State Senate for more than 33 years. I was married when first elected. I am still married. I intend to stay married. But this marriage did not start in politics.

Faya Rose and I were in Harvard Law School together. We called each “home boy” and “home girl” because of our Alabama roots. We became each other’s best friend. There was nothing romantic about the friendship. That was before the 47 years commenced. Forty seven years is a long time.

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Both of us were engaged in some form of politics even then. We were both members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and I later became its president. We engaged in protest together. We were involved in community struggles before we married. In fact, we were engaged in community struggles before we were “girlfriend and boyfriend.” Forty seven years is a long time.

The relationship changed at the very last moment. Faya Rose graduated in 1969, the year before I graduated. She had a fellowship to help the poor with Legal Services in Oakland, California. In August of 1969, she came to visit me in Bay Minette the week before she was to leave for California. That’s when the relationship took a romantic turn. She declined the California position and secured a position at the Columbia University Center on Welfare Policy and Law in New York so we could be closer together.  We were married five months later on Jan. 23, 1970. We spent a year in West Africa on a Ford Foundation Fellowship. It was our toughest year of marriage. We considered divorce. Forty seven years is a long time.

Faya Rose never wanted me to go into elective politics. To be honest, I never wanted to go into politics. To be even more frank, Faya Rose never wanted to come to Selma. We agreed that I would choose where we would live for the first five years, and she would choose for the next five years. That was more than 47 years ago.  We were both involved in the politics of voter registration, voter education and voter mobilization from 1972 on. I chaired all three of J.L. Chestnut Jr.’s races for state office, two for Alabama State Senate and one for State Representative. When J.L. Chestnut, Jr. could not get elected, he tricked me into running for State Senate. That’s how I became State Senator. Forty seven years is a long time.

Politics places new limits on every person in office. Politics also places additional limitations on every spouse of an elected official. Faya Rose and I share the same vision and mission to make our community, state, nation and world better places. We don’t always use the same approach. She made some adjustments to my approaches. I made some adjustments to her approaches. I respected her as a strong, intelligent, outspoken black woman. She respected me as a strong black man. Having the same mission and vision, along with deep respect for each others’ approaches, helped the marriage grow in strength and longevity. Forty seven years is a long time.

Last year, we agreed to go to Ethiopia for our 46th anniversary. We did not make it because of various political challenges. But a strong marriage can take such disappointments. This year we were going on a cruise for our 47th anniversary. We did not make it. Various challenges prevented our going. But strong marriages can handle such setbacks. We went to see the movie Hidden Figures on Sunday, Jan. 22. We tried to go to lunch on Monday the 23rd.  But her community commitments prevented the lunch. My commitments prevented dinner. Forty seven years is a long time.

I was at the Montgomery airport on one occasion when a porter said to me, “Your wife flew out of here yesterday. You are flying out today. I see you all going different ways all the time. That must be hard on your marriage.” I said, “What would be hard on our marriage would be one of us at home mad because the other one was not there.” Forty seven years is a long time.

In spite of politics, our marriage has been productive and not just in length of years.

Together, we have produced three children by birth and four by foster relationship; nine grandchildren by birth and nine by foster relationship. We have created a number of institutions, organizations and initiatives. We have been fruitful. We have multiplied. Forty seven years is a long time.

I am a better senator because of my marriage. I come home virtually every night from Montgomery, even if the legislative session ends at midnight or 2 a.m.

I am thankful for the love and commitment we share. Those are key to marriage. But it takes more, much more. Therefore, I am thankful to everyone who contributed to these forty seven years of fruitful marriage. I am so thankful for these 47 years.

Every one of our relationships impacts our visions, missions and work. Few, however, impact these relationships more than marriage, for better or worse. I am thankful that mine has been for the better.