My parents, Mary Brooks Snyder and Luther William Snyder, met sometime in late 1935 when they were paired in a wedding procession at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where they lived. My father’s aunt, Delaphine Snyder Busch, lived next door to my mother’s family on North State Street in Wilkes-Barre. After that first meeting, my father would frequently visit his aunt for a few minutes, then wander over to my mother’s front porch to spend hours chatting with her and her sister Sara. At first, they weren’t sure which sister was the attraction, but over time, it became clear it was Mary.
In 1937, my father left Wilkes-Barre to work for the summer in Asbury Park, a resort town on the New Jersey shore. Mary and Luther began writing letters to each other, and their correspondence lasted for three and one-half years until they were married in January of 1941. During this period, they saw each other only a few weeks a year. Each saved their letters, leaving a nearly complete set of correspondence chronicling their romance.
I decided to publish the letters because my mother wanted to publish them. Mary died in 2007. A few years later, I began the project to transcribe the letters and fulfill her wish. The letters reveal the emotional track of Mary and Luther’s courtship. Luther is the pursuer, always being honest with Mary about where she stands. Step-by-step he proclaims his feelings as he progresses from attraction to love. The media often portray African American males as brutes, lacking feelings and deep emotions. Luther’s authentic expressions of romantic love will be a revelation for many. Mary--sassy, feisty and mercurial--is a very smart young lady. She continues to date others until Luther makes it clear she is the only one. She accepts his evolving emotional state, never pushing for a greater commitment than he’s ready to make.
It is wonderful to witness my parents’ burgeoning relationship. Gradually, their intimacy deepens until they reach a point when they both know they’re ready to become man and wife.
I thought it important to give readers the full context for Mary and Luther’s relationship, and for readers to understand how two African American families had arrived in Wilkes-Barre, a small coal city in northeastern Pennsylvania. Researching the Brooks and Snyder family histories led to the discovery of many stories about my ancestors that had not been passed down.
Now, I understand better my parent’s emotional connection. Both were descended from African Americans who had likely escaped enslavement through the Underground Railroad. Both families had experienced acts of racism that had devastating consequences. Both of their mothers were outcasts in their respective communities: my maternal grandmother Stella because she was a White woman who had married a Black man; my paternal grandmother Maude because she was an unwed mother at a time when it was much less accepted than it is today.
I no longer view Mary and Luther as a child views a parent. Now, I see their full humanity—their hopes and dreams, their disappointments. The converging forces of racism and economics made it impossible for them to fulfill their full potential so they poured their hopes into their children. For that, I am eternally grateful.