Jean and I attended a remarkable wedding Saturday before last, steeped in history and interlaced with many remarkable lessons of America’s evolving culture.
The wedding united Talmadge Williams and Nina Gutierrez. It was held at the Custis-Lee Mansion on the grounds of the Arlington National Cemetery, with a magnificent view and a weather-perfect day.
Dr. Williams is chair of the Black Heritage Museum in Arlington and president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP. Ms. Gutierrez, a native of Mexico, is a successful Arlington businesswoman and a leader in the Latino community.
The wedding was the crowning event of a full day of activities commemorating the 176th Wedding Anniversary of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis on June 30, 1831.
Only two other weddings had been conducted at Arlington House before the Williams-Gutierrez wedding, all before the Lee-Custis wedding. They involved two slave couples, one of which included a Syphax, a prominent African-American family in Arlington to this day. Craig and Doug Syphax were among the formal wedding party.
The wedding was conducted in period costume. The couple arrived in a beautiful white carriage drawn by a single black horse. The large wedding party was awaiting the carriage in front of the mansion. After greeting their guests, the couple and attendants filed into the mansion. The wedding was conducted in the front parlor with Arlington Circuit Court Judge Jim Almand and the Rev. Dr. Leonard Hamilton, pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church in Arlington, officiating. The ceremony was broadcast to the guests sitting in front of the mansion.
The couple and the rest of the wedding party then filed out of the house, to be greeted by their guests with great enthusiasm. We then were taken down the hill by the cemetery’s trolleys to a very posh reception in the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
I really don’t need to spend a great deal of space pointing out to you all that this wedding represented to the guests, who were a very broad cross-section of the Arlington community. I will leave that to your imagination
We were a remarkably diverse crowd: Caucasians, Africa-Americans, Latinos, and Asians – you name it. I have written many times about the great diversity of the Arlington, and it certainly was reflected here. Most of us knew each other – or at least knew many in the crowd – and we had worked together in a multitude of Arlington political, cultural, and church-related activities.
But even greater than the sense of community was an awesome sense of history. An African-American-Latino wedding in the home of the great leader of the confederacy, with descendants of the slaves of the house participating in the wedding was probably a little more than we could immediately absorb. I, for one, am going to spend some time thinking about what this says about what America was, and what it has become. With all its flaws and pitfalls, it has been an awesome journey toward freedom for all.