The following passages are taken from “Living with an Architect and Finding Myself” by Sylvia Coles, out this winter from Buffalo Arts Publishing and available in local bookstores:

On settling in as a family in Western New York:

“Buffalo was then, and still is, considered one of the most segregated cities in the nation; and whites and blacks generally did not mix socially. Bob and I would go to events and affairs in which the audiences and participants would be either mainly white or black. Ours was one of the few mixed marriages in Buffalo at the time, and we were viewed with curiosity as well as with some hostility. But because of Bob’s status as an architect, he was accepted in the white professional community. In the black community, I encountered hostility on the part of some of the African-American women I met who, like so many others, viewed mixed marriages – especially white women married to black men – with disfavor. But over the years, hostility gave way to approval, and I became good friends with several black women.”

On meeting her future husband, Robert Traynham Coles, in a jazz nightclub in the St. Paul, Minn., area in the early 1950s:

“As the dance ended, we stayed on the dance floor and danced again. Before he brought me back to my table, where [my friend] Doris sat watching us, he said, ‘I’d like to see you again.’ Completely charmed, I suggested we meet the following Friday evening in Loring Park, near my apartment. That turned out to be a perfect summer evening, and we strolled awhile and then sat down in the grass to talk. And then, sheltered from passers-by, we kissed. The first kiss was followed by an impassioned kiss; wrapped in his arms, I felt myself falling in love.”

On the differences between Sylvia Coles and her husband of nearly 60 years:

“Bob had a tremendous ego, needing not only continual bolstering from friends and associates but also public recognition. Moving in smaller circles, I was pleased to be recognized occasionally for my more modest achievements. Underlying everything was a fundamental difference: He was black, I was white. As empathetic as I tried to be, I couldn’t put myself in his skin, experience the racism he encountered, and deal with it as he did.”

On a talk she gave in a local church one Sunday:

“In my address, I said that my experience in Africa had strengthened my conviction that we are all members of only one race – the human race – and need to treat each other with respect and kindness …”

“My speech was well-received, and Bob, who made a rare appearance in church to hear me speak, said he was impressed.”

Sylvia Coles’ memoir is available in Talking Leaves bookstore on Main Street, as well as in the Art Dialogue Gallery in Buffalo.

– Charity Vogel