Enemies In Love – The Unlikely Romance Between Elinor Powell and Frederick Albert

In this episode I am joined by professor and journalist Alexis Clark to discuss one of my favourite love stories from this series – the unlikely romance between Elinor, a black nurse, and Frederick, a German POW. They fell in love in the depths of war and continued to live courageously as they forged a life together…

Holly: Hello darlings and welcome back to Past Loves – the weekly history podcast that explores affection, infatuation and attachment across time to add a touch of romance to daily life. I’m Holly your true romantic host – although I don’t think I introduce myself that often in the introduction but no I am not just a nameless voice – in fact if you follow me on Instagram @pastlovespodcast you will sometimes – shock horror – even see my face as well. 

What I love about instagram is just talking to so many other history lovers, it’s such a community with I have to say I really only properly entered with this podcast during lockdown and so to meet (virtually of course) so many people at this time has just been an absolute joy and I have to say, the level of inspiration and creativity is just incredible. It really makes me so excited. I love it, so if you are a fellow history lover which I hope if you are listening to this podcast you are, I really urge you to follow me on instagram @pastlovespodcast of course and then probably the best thing to do to discover all of these like-minded people is have a scroll through the #historygirls because there are so many great people to discover. It’s just such a little community and I would really really recommend it if you are a fan of this podcast and of history, it’s a great place to be and frankly I’m just pleased to have found this community because until then there was a running joke in the office where a used to work that I could turn any discussion onto Russian history – and believe me I could. It’s a skill but I could and I’m pleased to not feel like I’ve harassed anyone into a conversation about history.

Anyway, nowadays I get to have wonderful conversations about history for you, for this podcast. This week I am joined by Alexis Clark. Alexis is an author and freelance journalist, writing about history with a focus on race, culture and politics during World War Two and the civil rights era. She is a contributing writer for The History Channel with stories on African American culture, the military and milestones in social and racial justice and also she writes historical features for The New York Times. Now I don’t know if it is destiny or algorithms that bought us together but a couple of months ago Youtube kept serving me this interview of Alexis and it was a time when I was really sick (if you’ve listened to that Bronte episode from last season you’ll know what I mean). I was very ill and I just hadn’t got round to watching it but I just kept being served it, day after day after day as a suggested video. I thought ‘okay, clearly the Youtube gods are trying to tell me something.’ So I finally watched the interview, I acquiesced because honestly I’d been served this video so many times I thought it has to mean something – and they were so right! I had to talk to Alexis for the interview.   

Her book Enemies in Love: A German POW, A Black Nurse And an Unlikely Romance reveals the love story of Elinor Powell (an African American nurse in the U.S. military during World War Two) and Frederick Albert (a soldier in Hitler’s army, captured by the Allies and shipped to a POW camp in the Arizona desert). It is a remarkable story, told is the most enthralling way, of two people who fell in love with each other in one of the most ruthless times. It is an underreported part of World War Two I think, the fact that there were prisoner of war camps in America and a shocking, hidden history of race on the home front which acts as a backdrop to this unlikely romance. So this episode is truly a love story wrapped in a part of history that seems very familiar and yet, this is completely unique. 

It really is a fascinating and heart-warming story of love in the most hostile of environments and we start by discussing the level of detective work that went into telling the story of Elinor and Frederick…

Alexis: That’s a great way to describe it. It is detective work. It was several years of interviewing and tracking down archives, and oh gosh, reconciling all this information. It was like I was a grad student all over again.

Holly: So maybe we could just start the conversation by your explaining how you first came across Elinor?

Alexis: Sure, sure. Well, it’s funny, I have always read a lot about World War Two. It’s just the topic has always fascinated me. So it wasn’t uncommon for me to read nonfiction about World War Two. And I became even more intrigued about blacks, African Americans who served in World War Two, because you’re thinking about a time in history where they were fighting for liberties that they themselves didn’t enjoy and I had a casual dinner conversation with my mom and she said that we were distant relatives of Colonel Charles Young, and he was the highest ranking African American in the US Army until his death in 1922. So I just became even more fascinated with military history. And then I found my way back into World War Two, and started reading a book called GI Nightingales and it has a small chapter about black women who served and I had no idea of this history and it talked about the black woman who joined the US Army Nurse Corps. And there was this one, I guess, sentence and I’m paraphrasing, but that’s when I first heard about Elinor and it said that the war holds fond memories for Elinor Powell, who met and later married her husband, a German POW in turned in Arizona. Like, what? 

Holly: How?!

Alexis: Exactly, Arizona, how’d you get over here? And how did they meet me? I was just like, I’ve got to unpack this story and that’s what started me on the journey of documenting her life. 

Holly: Yeah. So maybe we could start with her childhood. What was it like? What her parents like?

Alexis: So Elinor was born in Milton, Massachusetts, in 1921. And Milton is a suburb of Boston. So Milton is very progressive. I mean, it was a majority white neighborhood and suburb. But the outlook, the acceptance of other people, was well received and well regarded. They had a history of that. Even though Boston has its own troubled history with racism. It also has some progressive moments, too. I mean, they have a thriving NAACP chapter. So anyway, she grew up in Milton. She is in a family. They’re well respected. Her father served in the first war. He was in the Great War in a segregated troop for black soldiers. Her mother was a school teacher from Louisville, Kentucky, and she met her husband, Elinor’s dad in Kentucky, and that’s when they fell in love. But it was entirely segregated. Jim Crow was the law. So he’s like, ‘No, we’re gonna live in Massachusetts, where it’s not as segregated and we have a good life.’ So they were homeowners he worked as an elevator operator, but then was trained and apprenticed and became he was more of an engineer and became the mechanics of it. So he was employed by the Boston customs throughout the depression. So they were one of those few families who did okay. They didn’t lose their homes. They weren’t, you know, vulnerable with food, all those stories that we have from that era. So she grew up thriving in this white community, white friends and active in school. She was in Girl Scouts. She really had an idyllic childhood.

Holly: Yeah, she it really seemed like moving to New York was a big change for her.

Alexis: Well, moving to New York is a big change for most people…

Holly: That’s true!

Alexis: …when you’re not from New York. But absolutely, if you’re from a suburban town, moving to New York is like oh my god, you’re wide-eyed, but that she decided to go to nursing school. Her original plan was to be a veterinarian, but those opportunities were very scarce for women, let alone African American women at that time, so she went to nursing school, a school called the Lincoln school for nurses in the Bronx, for black Women, and that’s where she trained and she finished in 1943 and made the decision that she wanted to enlist and show her patriotism. And so she joined the US Army Nurse Corps. 

Holly: I was very interested by the background history you gave of what it was like for African American nurses in the war effort, because there was such racism towards them in the war effort.

Alexis: There absolutely was. So the military was just an extension of society. So society functioned under Jim Crow discrimination and so did the military. So blacks and whites were entirely separated in every aspect. They were in separate barracks, separate dining halls, separate units, separate social clubs. And so again, if we go back to Elinor’s childhood, she grew up in a white area where she had congenial relationships. So she didn’t experience overt racism until she joined the military and she realized that blacks, of course, she was aware of segregation discrimination, but she was finally thrust into it where she had to live in those parameters and so that was devastating for her. To wear her uniform, like other nurses and to go out and they were denied access. They couldn’t eat at restaurants, they could, they could, if they wanted to buy something, they could hold it up to themselves, but they were not allowed to try on clothes and go in the dressing room. Even on base, you know, there were certain socials that the black nurses were not invited. I mean, things like that those slides and then you had more egregious examples where they would hear white commanding officers using the N word or slurring them. So it’s a very difficult and dehumanizing experience for many of the black nurses and soldiers as well.

Holly: Yeah, so she had her training post at Fort…

Alexis: Huachuca.

Holly: You could see that I was gonna struggle with that pronunciation. That was in Arizona?

Alexis: Yes, her basic training was in Arizona, and that once that was over with she was given her official duties to report to Camp Florence, deeper in the desert of Arizona.

Elinor Powell at Camp Florence (Credit: Chris Albert via The Smithsonian)

Holly: Yeah. So Camp Florence was a prisoner of war camp. And why were they sending African American nurses there?

Alexis: Here’s the thing. When, according to Elinor, when she gave some of her recollections about her military experience, their commanding officer came to her unit and said ‘we are transferring you, you will report to camp Florence,’ because they were concerned that the white unit of nurses there was too much fraternization going on between the white nurses, and the German POW. So they said ‘you know, we’ll just we’ll just ship these black women in, there won’t be any problems.’ I mean, there’s so many layers on why there’s…

Holly: so many, so many problems to that ideology.

Alexis: Right! But also keep in mind, there were white women who were stationed at POW camps by default, because there’s so many more who were in the army. But whenever the army could make that switch, they would always put in a black unit if they could.

Holly: And what really made me think was when you spoke about the fact that they were being sent to a place where these people had been in a society that referred to black people as subhuman and so to be sent, there must have been really scary and daunting.

Alexis: They couldn’t believe it. I mean, I read letters of nurses who are like, ‘why would we be in contact with Nazi soldiers when they don’t even think we’re human beings?’ I mean, they were actually scared like, this could be a volatile situation, why would our country put us in this position? So they were very afraid. And on top of it, there was a nursing shortage. So they’re like, ‘we’re trained to help American soldiers on the front lines, and you need us to help. Why are you wasting our resources and making a stay here?’ So they were bewildered, upset and insulted.

Holly: Yeah. I mean, it is so problematic in so many ways, but at least for Elinor, there was some light has also at Camp Florence was Frederick. 

Alexis: Yes.

Holly: Now I love the story of how they first met. Will you please tell it in all glory?

Alexis: Yes, yes. This is a great story. And I learned this story from the children and surviving relatives. And apparently they were in the mess hall. Elinor was there to have her meal and Frederick saw her and he described it like he was under a spell. And he went right up to her and said, ‘you should know my name. I’m the man who’s going to marry you.’ It’s really something out of a movie, right?

Holly: It really is and if it was in a film they’d be like ‘that’s so cheesy.’ 

Alexis: This is this is what happened. And obviously she was amused and like, Who is this? 

Holly: Yes. Absolutely. Bewildered.

Alexis: And so, you know, it became kind of a flirtation, apparently, you know, if they had, I don’t know meatloaf for dinner, he would make her own personal dish of schnitzel, or something like…if they had jello, he would make her apple strudel. He would just flatter her and make her feel special. And then that flirtation evolved.

Holly: And I think it’s understandable for her that she was not as forward as he was, and needed, like a little bit of time to warm up to the idea that something might happen.

Alexis: Of course, I mean, there was a great risk, and she was right to be suspicious. I mean, you think about who this man is, what he really represents as a man who was in Hitler’s army, she had no idea what his true feelings were about her about black people. And also she was in the army and so to engage in a relationship with basically the enemy, she was taking a big risk on several fronts.

A photograph of Elinor and Frederick together which features on the cover of Alexis’ book

Holly: So they started this flirtation, there are a couple of baking classes involved. Just the romance continues. How were those first few months of their relationship? How did they start to get very close to each other?

Alexis: It was kind of like courting. So they had a lot of recreational activities for the POWs because remember, the United States Army had a plan, they wanted to re-educate Germans to get them on the side of democracy. So they made life comfortable in many of the camps. And so Frederick was a baker and so he would hold these baking classes and the nurses attended. And so obviously, Elinor was a frequent guest. And he also was a medic, so he would volunteer in the hospital. So they would see each other and he became an oasis for her. And, you know, from my understanding, they made it official one night in the hospital, in the operating room. And, yeah, they, I mean, his sister of all people told me this story, but she was so amused by it and that Frederick, they were very close. And he told her because she was curious. She’s like, ;Well, how did all this happen?; He said ;Well, we made love on the operating table.’ So there you have it.

Holly: I mean, there’s nothing that is not remarkable about this story in so many ways. So you mentioned his sister, maybe we can talk a little bit about his childhood and what his family was like, because part of the book I felt they just like, especially his parents, they just jumped off the page. They were so vivid, those characters.

Alexis: Well, he was born in Germany, but raised in Vienna. And his father was very successful engineer. He developed fireproofing materials. So he contracted with the German army. And again, I mentioned that he was also a soldier. His mother was from a wealthy family. So Frederick grew up in privilege. The problem is, is that he was a renaissance man, he really didn’t have a mind for business. He was not interested in the war. He didn’t agree with the war. He was a painter. He loved jazz. I mean, he was everything his father with thought was just frivolous and embarrassing. So he grew up isolated really from his father, his mother doted on them. But he didn’t see love in their marriage because his father was an open, unapologetic womanizer. So he had a difficult childhood in the sense that he, there wasn’t much love in the household. And then he was conscripted into the army and that’s how he basically got captured. Apparently, that’s what he told his sons and I have paperwork. He was captured in Italy, and one of the 390,000 Germans who eventually made their way to the United States as POWs.

Holly: Why were the POWs in the United States? Because that to me, just I’ve never heard that part of the story before.

Alexis: I know I hadn’t either. So when you really think about it, I mean, Europe was bombed to death, right? And so Britain needed help with what are we doing with all these captured German soldiers? And so the United States reluctantly started to take them. And there’s nowhere for them to house them, for Britain or France to house and they had their own POWs. And so also under the Geneva Convention of 1929, the detaining power can take prisoners, they have to just adhere to certain standards. So the United States captured Germans in Europe, Northern Africa, and then shipped them in across the Atlantic and dispersed them in camps. And it ended up being a boom to the economy because they provided low skilled labor. All these American men were away at war. So you need people and the farms and the canneries and the plants. And that became the task of the POW.

Holly: Yeah, it is remarkable that not that much is known about that part of history when we talk about World War Two, so, so very much the I would not know that.

Alexis: I was surprised too. I was surprised it that I didn’t know about that until researching this book.

Holly: Yeah. So what was life like for them on the camp together trying to pursue this secret relationship?

Alexis: Well, you know, it’s funny, I mean, they are a product of that generation where they didn’t share too many details with their children. And then and they didn’t talk about the war. What we do know is that I met Elinor’s friend who was still alive Gwyneth Moore who watched them fall in love. And she would just sneak away at night. So one can only imagine where they were going and we do know about that one destination

Holly: in the middle of the Arizona desert. 

Alexis: Exactly, exactly. So there wasn’t much to do. There weren’t critical cases, because when you think about it, the POWs had to be fairly healthy to make that transatlantic journey. So it’s not like these nurses were working around the clock saving lives. I mean, they were actually bored and wanting and hoping that they would get deployments overseas where they could really help, but that didn’t happen.

Holly: Did anyone find out about the relationship? 

Alexis: Well we can only speculate that a guard did. We don’t think that guard reported it because Elinor was never reprimanded. But there is an incident that Frederick shared with his son that he was badly beaten. He was, you know, found late at night. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He didn’t say where he was going. Obviously, he would never have told the truth because that would have endangered the love of his life. But he was beaten severely and held in isolation. And so they think that’s because word was spreading that he was carrying on with this black nurse.

Holly: And there was also a feeling that the war was coming to an end. So they knew that Frederick was going to be sent back to Germany. 

Alexis: Correct

Holly: Because that was the law, wasn’t it? So they, they did what you referred in your book as “a planned act of rebellion between two lovers.” What was that act of rebellion?

Alexis: Well, you know, it. It was I don’t know if you call it youthful rebellion, madness…

Holly: …desperation …

Alexis: they decided that there was one thing that would tie them together forever. And they intentionally conceived a child. And it was at great risk, mostly to Elinor because she would have to return home unmarried and pregnant with the German POW’s child. She was so convinced that they would reunite. So that’s what happened.

Holly: And they they managed to do it and yeah, so he went back and she went back home pregnant didn’t she?

Alexis: She did. So she went back home to Milton. By that time, her father was already deceased. He had complications to hypertension and her mother was in poor health as well. But she moved back home and of course, you know, remember I described there this upper middle class, upstanding African American family, you know, having a daughter who’s unwed and pregnant. I mean, that was considered such a scandal and taboo, so her mother was not pleased and from family lore, there was a silent treatment, but eventually she came around to support her daughter. And then Frederick went to live with his sister in Vienna.

Holly: And how did he manage to get back to Elinor?

Alexis: Elinor was able to show the State Department the US government that Frederick was not going to be a drain on the system. So they provided proof of income from friend who was a fellow nurse and her sisters, were able to provide that we have the means to take care of him and that’s what happened. He was able to come back, fly to the United States, and he arrived in June 1947. They married about four or five days after his arrival in New York City at City Hall, because at that time, New York City, blacks and whites were allowed to get married and we’re still talking about a time where it was illegal in many states. In fact, they married almost 20 years to the day of the Loving v. Virginia decision and that’s when the Supreme Court struck down marriage bans, interracial marriage bans that had existed.

New York City Hall (Credit)

Holly: Yeah, I did a episode about Richard and Mildred Loving for the last season and listening to Elinor and Frederick story, it made it even more palpable of there were these couples just trying to get married. And I knew that when they moved somewhere where it was then for illegal for them to be married, it was a big difference in how free they were as a couple.

Alexis: Absolutely. And then when I think about it, just how brave they were. I mean, you think about the Loving decision. Look what they went through and and that Elinor and Frederick did that 20 years before. Yeah, they were determined to get married. And they did it.

Holly: They did and an American and a German, you know postwar. They really were so brave to commit to that.

Alexis: Brave and naive because they had such a tough time. Such a tough time that I don’t think they anticipated just how hard, just how cruel the world could be.

Holly: So the next about 12 years of their relationship is quite unsettled. So they’re together in the US. Why did they decide to move back to Germany?

Alexis: They had such a tough time sustaining housing. There were tenants who complained they did not want to live next to them. This is black woman, this German they have this mixed race son. I mean, there was so much discrimination and so the landlords were like, ‘Look, I can’t risk a bunch of people moving out. You’ve got to go.’ So they moved a lot. And same thing happened even with employment. I mean, not many people were, we’re talking fresh off the war, wanting to hire a German. So Elinor also was concerned that Frederick would regret making the decision to move and to be with her and their son. And she also knew a bit about his background, and he shared that he was going to be heir, you know, take over his father’s company.

Holly: Yeah, he in line to be the next CEO. 

Alexis: Exactly, exactly. So she said, ‘Look, I don’t want you to regret this. We could possibly have a better life in Germany.’ And he’s like, ‘wait a minute, you don’t really know what it’s like.’

Holly: Yeah he’s the one who’s like ‘um’

Alexis: Not only the environment, political and social environment, just his fractured relationship with his father. But you said, ‘Okay, we’ll give it a year and if we hate it, we have to promise each other that we’re going to return to the United States and make it here.’ And so that’s what they did.

Holly: Yeah. So in 1952, they moved to Germany. What was the experience like particularly for Elinor? 

Alexis: It was very difficult. So they move to Göttingen, I guess you could describe it more in central Germany. It was a university town. But one thinks a lot that university towns are liberal and actually not with Göttingen, it was actually a more conservative ideology. They had a previous Nazi, Nazi history and population. So his father rebuilt his factory there and lucrative factory and built a beautiful home. And Elinor arrives and by all accounts, we don’t think that Frederick shared that his wife was black because based on what we know about how his mother her shock and surprise and subsequent treatment, she was not pleased with his decision to say the least. So their granddaughter Christina, who was the daughter of his sister, Charlotte, she was being raised by them and she spoke English. And she told me and shared a lot of these anecdotes and then unfortunately, her grandmother would just scream incessantly in German towards Elinor, who she knew Elinor didn’t understand. She would hear her cackling on the phone, you know with her friends, it just cruel and they ate separately. They would go on walks separately, and there’s this one story where Elinor went to the market, and it was just so uncommon for this particular area of Germany to be in contact with black people, that this one man saw Elinor and dropped his bag of vegetables and literally the cabbage was rolling down the street. It was like he had seen it an alien. And people would point and there are some other very unfortunate moments when she was called the N word. 

Holly: It must have been so horrible for her just to step out because she was also very tall.

Alexis:Yes, she had a commanding presence. She was almost six feet tall. So she stood out for a number of reasons.

Holly: She was just, it must have been incredibly difficult. And I’ve really found the family dynamics, how you wrote about that in the book very interesting. And how, because I imagine for Frederick’s mother, this child she doted on was now back with a wife, which is already kind of change in how they can relate to each other. And so to be in that house, it was hard for them, wasn’t it?

Alexis: It was, and I think his mother, you know, also, she had never been in contact with African Americans before and so she had a very primitive and racist view. And so you have that dynamic. And then again, her doting son was showing all his affection and attention for another woman. So there was also this weird competitiveness, and that she became very territorial. So it’s very difficult situation for Elinor and it was hard really, to fight back, because there they were living with them. So how, how confrontational could they be when his parents were providing shelter, food, stability for them?

Holly: Hmm, it must have been such a strain on their relationship. But that’s why they decided to move back to the US.

Alexis: Yes, I spoke to his sister and she was convinced had they stayed that Elinor would have left him. She was that unhappy. So they made the decision to leave and during that time, in Germany, they had another son. So they moved back to the United States with their two little boys and started over again.

Holly: Yeah, and had to kind of start over and over and over again, because they came into contact with a lot of racism, especially about getting their little boy into school.

Alexis: Correct. So they moved to Philadelphia, a suburb of Philadelphia. And they were trying to enroll their son, Steven and neighborhood school. And the principal said, you know, I think it’d be better off at the Phyllis Wheatley School, which was a school for black students. And Elinor said, ‘This is my neighborhood school. This is where my son should go, why should he have to go to another one?’ And the principal office all but said no, because he’s black. And so she fought the school board. 

Holly: Yeah I love the letter that she she wrote, it was very powerful.

Alexis: Right, she wrote a letter to school board, and she documented a letter and send it to the NAACP that, you know, ‘we’re American citizens, we have a right to go to this school, and why are we being judged by our skin colour.’ And it’s very effective letter. And unfortunately, that didn’t persuade the school board to change their minds. So they ended up moving again. And that’s, that’s really a pattern they would just move.

Holly: And do you think that it was a marriage of equals, because there’s a lot about Elinor wanting to go back to work and having to kind of maintain instead the very traditional roles.

Alexis: Right? Well, he was against it. You didn’t want her to work. I had a very traditional outlook. But I also think there’s another thing at play. I think if she worked, he would have felt that he couldn’t provide for his family and he already had these lingering feelings of inadequacy that his father had planted in him, and he needed to prove that he was a success. And if his wife had to help pay the bills, it just created a bad feeling. And apparently, when she would try to take on some private nursing jobs, it just created too much disruption in their home. So she just stopped altogether. And she was also afraid had there ever been a time that she would actually need to work for whatever reason that she would have developed such a reputation for quitting and not being reliable that she wouldn’t be able to get a job. So she just stopped and was a full time housewife.

Holly: And Frederick pursued a passion that we talked about earlier and he went to culinary school.

Alexis: He did. He went to baking school and eventually became an executive at Pepperidge Farm and it’s really interesting because they have a famous apple strudel pastry, and it was developed when he was head of their experimental bakery and I remember inquiring with Pepperidge Farm, it was it Frederick’s recipe? And they said back then they did not document who specifically made the recipe, but it was developed under his tenure. So I thought that was a nice bit of trivia because I’m sure it was his.

Holly: And so it was really in 1959, when things started to fall into place for them as a couple. Things became more stable. So Frederick had this job and they moved somewhere in itself, that sounded quite remarkable.

Alexis: It was very remarkable. It was a community and it’s still in existence called Village Creek, and it’s in South Norwalk, Connecticut. So that community was founded in 1949/1950 by World War Two veterans as a prejudiced free community. And they bought a plot of land and every piece of property backed onto the Long Island Sound. And anyone could live there, there was always going to be a ratio that’s equal, it wasn’t going to be a black neighborhood, a white neighborhood, everyone was welcome black, white, mixed, Jews, gays artists, it really was an area free of discrimination. And they had an advertisement in the New York Times and Elinor and Frederick decided ‘this is where we should be.’ And so they bought a house there and live there until their deaths and they were married for more than 50 years. 

Discover more about Village Creek here >

Holly: I thought it was very touching that they had a flawed marriage – and we can talk about that a little bit if you’d like to – but they were so devoted to each other. I know that Hope who was…

Alexis:…the niece, Elinor’s niece…

Holly: ….says about Frederick’s feelings towards her that ‘you know the sun rose and set in Ellie’ which is just like a testament to the strength of their love.

Alexis: Yes. I mean, they had a devotion to each other that people always commented on. Like they were always, always coupled up paired, and they’re inseparable. But they also had problems that other couples face. And unfortunately, Frederick was unfaithful. So he carried on affairs. And it’s hard, you know, sometimes people challenge that ‘Well, how are they so in love if he did that?’ And we don’t know the answer to that. But we do know that they were committed to each other and she clearly chose to forgive him. And from everyone who knew them that even with that betrayal, no one doubted how much they loved each other and their commitment. So they managed to stay together despite infidelity.

Holly: What was family life like them there?

Alexis: Once they were in Village Creek, they finally had some stability. Elinor became she was already an avid gardener and so she became the the neighborhood gem like people would visit and look at her garden. The children loved it, they had friends, finally. They weren’t moving every year or two years and having to find new friends. And they also had that extra layer of being mixed race and at some point, there were as one of the sons told me issues of identity. Frederick and Elinor didn’t really discuss race, civil rights, what was going on. In fact, Frederick never discussed the war with his children. So there was some programming going on where they just didn’t really touch certain subjects. And you can conclude that they did that to protect their children and not talk about painful things. But there’s another argument that if you live in a bubble, what happens when you leave that bubble? And that’s what happened with the two boys that they had some identity issues as they became teenagers and young men.

Holly: Yeah. But part of their legacy as a couple that they left was in jazz and I loved the story that there was just like jazz playing in the house the whole time.

Alexis: Yes, that is a wonderful theme. So like I said, Frederick loved jazz, and he even would sneak around and listen to it when he was a teenager after Hitler had banned it. And during the war, he would play it on the radio. And throughout their marriage. They had all this wonderful music always playing and their son, Chris became a professional trumpet player, and he played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Count Basie orchestra, so I thought that was a wonderful thread that Jazz was so important that their son pursed it for his career.

Holly: It’s a really lovely personal legacy to leave. What do you think their legacy for all of us should be? How should they be remembered?

Alexis: I think that they should be remembered for their courage and their bravery. They didn’t let racism win. You know they really fought against it and they were both from countries which had horrific racialised laws and discrimination towards groups of people and they did not acquiesce to it and they fought against it and they fell in love with each other. And I think that’s a testament to how the world should work and how we should see each other. So I think their legacy is one of courage and bravery and they really are the epitome of true love. They really are.

Holly: They sure are and I think that’s the perfect place to end. Thank you so much for talking to me about them today. 

Alexis: Oh thank you, thank you so much for having me.

Holly: And thank you so much for listening. I really hope you enjoyed this episode about a couple that defied convention – I think Elinor and Frederick really were so very special and there are those moments in their story that are just breath-taking, like when they first meet and Frederick delivered that incredible line about knowing his name because you’re going to marry me – I think it’s just amazing. Their boldness about getting pregnant so that they would be forever tied to one another and then the racial and societal battles that they had to fight to be together were just immense. I think the fact that they were sending African American nurses to the POW camps because the were worried about the level of fraternization is shocking. It is degrading and dehumanizing but I am so pleased for Elinor and Frederick that, within all that, they managed to find love and then settle down in Village Creek which just sounded so right for them. 

I mentioned in the episode that I had done another episode about Mildred and Richard Loving with Peter Wallenstein that tells their love story and the Supreme court case that they fought in order to give couples like Elinor and Frederick freedom to marry across America. So if you haven’t listened to that episode I would highly recommend delving back into the Past Loves archive.

Alexis’ book Enemies in Love is now available on Amazon and at Waterstones. It really is, in my opinion,  a must-read.

If you have enjoyed this episode please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening to it now. It means so much to me to hear what you think of the podcast – honestly it really does give me so much joy so thank you for leaving a review. It really is very very appreciated.

And then, I would love to talk to you so if you follow me over on Instagram @pastlovespodcast the conversation can continue. Have a delightful week! Until soon!

Listen to this episode on iTunesSpotifyPodbeanTuneIn & Stitcher.

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