The sun hadn’t risen yet and it was raining heavily with no signs of letting up, but my friends started appearing on my doorstep shortly after 6 a.m. on Saturday.
Most showed up wearing hats and high heels and looking as if they were headed to England’s Windsor Castle to watch the royal wedding in person — instead of inside my suburban home.
We had created “royal” viewing stations in the living and family rooms. To get into the spirit, I had hung a pink banner, “Congratulations Meghan and Harry!” and placed a copy of Meghan Markle’s new unauthorized biography by Andrew Morton on a side table decorated with pink flower petals and pale blue Wedgewood china. A caterer and his assistant were hard at work in the kitchen assembling cucumber and dill finger sandwiches, baking beans and frying up turkey bacon for a traditional English breakfast.
The 20 of us were all in rare form, laughing and listening intently as David Alexander Jenkins, an elegant Center City socialite, regaled us with his encyclopedic knowledge of royal history and explained who was who as the guests made their way into St. George’s Chapel.
Paula Jackson of Camden, who wore a silver tiara, made sure she had one of the best viewing positions — a spot she kept others from stealing by taping a sign saying, “RESERVED FOR THE QUEEN.” Cherri Gregg, a community affairs reporter for KYW Newsradio, wore a turquoise English-style fascinator. Pietra Dunmore, a makeup artist and writer based in South Jersey, was busy giving royal makeup touch-ups.
As the formal procession got underway, we settled down to ooh and ahh over the flowers and the pageantry and critiqued Markle’s long-sleeved, off-the-shoulder gown. “I wish the train of her dress was longer,” sighed Angelita Byrd, a Center City resident who bought a new black hat for the occasion.
There were far more compliments, though, than anything else.
After all, this was the first modern-day black British royal wedding and my racially diverse group of friends took great pride in that. Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, is African American. Her father, Thomas Markle, is white. Markle’s biracial heritage is something that’s been an issue for some, including one publication that referred to Markle, who was educated in private schools, as being “(almost) straight outta Compton.”
It was notable that even among all of the English pomp and circumstance that Markle didn’t shrink from her African heritage as she easily could have. Instead, she warmed our hearts and others by embracing it, having invited a talented 19-year-old cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who is black, to perform. There were other soulful notes throughout the ceremony.
A British black gospel group, Kingdom Choir, sang a moving rendition of “Stand by Me,” a 1961 song with political overtones. The Most Rev. Michael Curry, the first African American to head the Episcopal Church, delivered a powerful sermon, during which he quoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and referenced African American slaves as he spoke movingly about the redemptive power of love. People may have thought they were going to a wedding, but he really preached.
After it was over, we sipped Earl Grey tea, drank mimosas, and nibbled on a lemon lavender cake from Whole Foods. (I couldn’t find Markle’s exact wedding-cake combo of lemon and elderflower, so that had had to do.)
We ladies, and two gents, partied as if we were at our own royal wedding, because in a way, we were. Yes, we love a royal wedding. But a woman of African American heritage had married into British royalty and we were giddy about it.
“This is a great follow-up to President Obama,” declared Mildred Jones, a federal government worker, who lives in West Philly.
That’s what it felt like. On Saturday, we looked across the proverbial pond for a few hours and saw something that filled us with the same kind of hope and excitement we felt before Obama took office. There was no talk of President Trump and the ongoing investigation into possible Russian meddling in the U.S. election process. No one brought up the latest horrific school shooting in Texas. No one mentioned the scourge of street violence in Philly.
We put all of that aside for a minute to watch a biracial woman whose mother wore her hair in dreadlocks with a modified pillbox and a nose ring marry Britain’s most eligible bachelor.