The Bride wore Black
A love affair between an English bank clerk and an African chieftain provoked panic amongst post-war British colonial officials who schemed to have the couple exiled.
The enduring love affair between a black man and a white woman began one summer night in gloomy, rationed postwar Britain. But this was no ordinary man, nor indeed any ordinary woman. He was Seretse Khama, the heir to the kingship of the largest tribe of an African protectorate under British control; she was Ruth Williams, a 23-year-old clerk in a shipping company, and a conservative, with a small and large c.
The love story of Seretse and Ruth defines an era of dying colonial power. Stymied in their relationship at every turn by the British government, in covert alliance with apartheid South Africa, the dignity of Khama and his strong-willed bride came to represent the emerging freedoms and racial tolerance of Africa as a whole.
The young Khama was sent over to London in 1945 to study law by his uncle, the Regent of the Bangwato tribe to which Seretse was heir. Lonely at first in the chill world of Oxford, he moved to London, where he met several other politically minded young Africans; and then met Ruth, at a dinner dance, in June 1947. Within months, the couple were engaged.
Almost immediately, the young mixed-race couple faced trouble. They were plagued by racist landlords and casual abuse in the streets. British government officials, family friends and church figures tried to prevent the marriage. On their first attempt to wed in a Kensington Church it was blocked by the Bishop of London, and the person who was meant to marry the pair was told in no uncertain terms he should not officiate at the wedding. The ceremony didn’t go ahead, but the couple managed to marry secretly at a registry office, four days later.
The bride wore a black suit.