Interracial Couples on TV in the 20th Century

Today, there are arguably too many interracial couples on television to count. For a large part of the 20th century, however, interracial couples on TV shows were few and far between. Given that anti-miscegenation laws remained on the books of U.S. states well into the 1960s, entertainment executives deemed mixed couples too controversial for television. That’s why the kiss between “Star Trek’s” Captain Kirk, who was white, and Lt. Uhura, who was Black, continues to be referenced in history books. While that interracial kiss was just the subject of one episode, some television shows went a step farther and featured couples from different ethnic and racial backgrounds on an ongoing basis. This list highlights some of the earliest interracial couples on scripted television shows.

Ricky and Lucy Ricardo of “I Love Lucy”

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

in 1951, as the first television program to feature an interracial couple. Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) was an Anglo woman married to Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz). There’s room for debate about whether the Ricardos actually constituted an interracial couple. Some say that Desi Arnaz, though Cuban, had mostly European heritage, so the Ricardos were more of a bicultural couple than a biracial one. In any case, Ricardo’s ethnicity was a focal point of the show, and Lucille Ball herself said that network executives hesitated to green light the show because she wanted Arnaz (her real-life husband) to play her spouse on the program. While Ball and Arnaz divorced after “I Love Lucy,” the Ricardos remain one of the most beloved television couples in history.

Tom and Helen Willis of “The Jeffersons”

Roxie Roker and Franklin Cover as Tom and Helen Willis.
"Jeffersons" Publicity Photo

When “The Jeffersons” premiered in 1975 on CBS, it not only garnered attention for featuring an upwardly mobile African-American family but also for featuring one of television’s first interracial couples—Tom and Helen Willis (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker), neighbors of George and Louise Jefferson. Although a comedy, the show exhibited some of the bigotry that mixed couples face. George Jefferson, a black man, routinely insulted Tom, a white man, and Helen, a black woman, for marrying each other. His wife, Louise, however was more accepting of the union. Tom and Helen also had two children. While their daughter, who looked mostly black, was a recurring character, their son, who could pass for white, was not. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Marla Gibbs, who played the Jefferson’s maid Florence on the series, said the Willises had many fans. “I think it was great. I think people accepted them, loved them.” She also remarked how in real life, Roxie Roker was married to a Jewish man, Sy Kravitz. Their union produced one child—musician and actor Lenny Kravitz.

Dominique Deveraux and Garrett Boydston on “Dynasty”

The character Dominique Deveraux made her debut on ABC nighttime soap opera “Dynasty” in 1984. She was a glamorous villainess and a member of the powerful Carrington family, born after a longtime affair between Carrington patriarch, Tom Carrington, and his black mistress Laura Matthews. When Dominique’s character is first introduced, she’s married to the African-American Brady Lloyd (Billy Dee Williams). The two separate before long and a new love interest enters the picture—Garrett Boydston (Ken Howard), who’s white. Garrett and Dominique have been involved previously but Dominique is reluctant to rekindle the relationship. That’s because when they were involved the first time, Garrett said he couldn’t leave his wife for her. Unbeknownst to him, Dominique had his child, a daughter named Jackie. This secret is eventually revealed and the trio seems destined to live as a traditional family, but Dominique calls off her wedding to Garrett after learning that he never previously had a wife, he simply didn’t want to commit to her. The character of Dominique Deveraux allowed the American public the rare opportunity to see a glamorous black woman on the small screen as well as the ups and downs of an interracial romance.

Tom Hardy and Simone Ravelle of “General Hospital”

While Dominique Deveraux and Garrett Boydston broke ground as an interracial couple on nighttime soap opera “Dynasty,” the characters of Simone Ravelle (Laura Carrington) and Tom Hardy (David Wallace) made waves on daytime soap opera “General Hospital” upon marrying. Their union even made the cover of black interest magazine Jet in 1988. According to Jet, the marriage of the African-American Ravelle to the white Hardy marked the first time a daytime soap featured an interracial couple. Carrington told Jet then that she hoped the interracial marriage would be a positive influence on the public. “I’m hoping when they get into the relationship with them living and decorating and all that stuff that people can see that a blend can be obtained, a harmonious blend. We really want to teach and influence, educate people that it’s nothing so strange.”

Ronald Freeman and Ellen Davis of “True Colors”

Fox’s “True Colors” Publicity Photo.
Fox’s “True Colors” Publicity Photo.

“True Colors” was unique for not only featuring an interracial couple—Ronald Freeman (Frankie Faison) and Ellen Davis (Stephanie Faracy)—but also for making that relationship the focus of the show upon its 1990 debut on Fox. Moreover, it marked one of the rare times an interracial relationship involving a black man and a white woman was depicted on the small screen. The show also focused on the children Ronald and Ellen had with previous partners. Because of the blended family aspect of the show, “True Colors” has been described as an interracial “Brady Bunch.” However, Ronald and Ellen had just three children between them rather than the six featured on the “Brady Bunch.” Due to health problems of cast members, “True Colors” was not a long lasting series. It wrapped in 1992.