Headlines of Yore

Remembering an acclaimed Doylestown poet whose interracial marriage was denigrated as ‘an experiment’

Though his works are often categorized as part of the Harlem Renaissance, Jean Toomer did not often identify himself as Black.

Passport issued to Jean Toomer

Passport issued to Jean Toomer

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

What happens when you mix an interracial marriage during the 1930s and a dose of literary fame? Tabloid-style intrigue.

The story begins with the relationship between acclaimed poet Jean Toomer, who was Black, and the then-budding author Margey Latimer, who was white. Latimer died at 33 shortly after giving birth to the couple’s only daughter, but her death made headlines because of the intense media scrutiny of their marriage.

The pair met in 1931 while living on a farm-slash-commune in Wisconsin. They married shortly after — and once their relationship became public knowledge, local news covered their union with racist hysteria.

At one point, The Inquirer even called their marriage “an experiment in human behavior.”

Two years after the death of his first wife, Toomer remarried, this time to the Jewish photographer Marjorie Content. They bought a farm in Doylestown, where they passed the rest of their lives. Posthumously, Toomer’s works and his feelings on his own race have become the subject of major scholarship.

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