When Martha Tucker was 24 years old, she found herself madly in love, ready to get married and start a family with her sweetheart, Lehman Tucker.
But it was 1952 in the Deep South. And unlike White women at the time, she was denied the simple pleasure of walking into a bridal shop and trying on a wedding dress.
Now, nearly 70 years later, Tucker finally got to try on the dress of her dreams.
The Tuckers’ romance began in Birmingham, Alabama, where segregation laws suppressed Black people for generations.
“During that time, we couldn’t just walk in those stores,” Martha, now 94, told CNN. “I tried not to think about buying a wedding dress because I knew I wouldn’t even be allowed inside. I was very upset about it, but it’s not like there was anything I could do.”
Despite her longing to be married in a lace white gown, complete with embroidered sleeves and buttons going down the back, the young woman had to accept the reality that it wouldn’t happen.
Making her dream come true
The memory recently came flooding back while Martha and her granddaughter, Angela Strozier, were watching the wedding scene in the 1988 movie “Coming to America.”
“I’ve always wanted to try on a wedding dress,” Strozier, 46, said her grandmother told her.
“I never thought of my grandma’s dream of wearing a wedding dress because I didn’t even know it was a dream they were denied,” Strozier added. “Women like my grandmother sacrificed so much for us to have the liberties we have now. For someone to be denied the simple opportunity of purchasing a dress of her choice really shone a light on the reality of our history.”
Strozier says that she didn’t know her grandmother didn’t have a wedding dress “because we were told a lot of their earlier photos were destroyed in a fire.”
But she was inspired to make her grandmother’s dream come true.
On July 3, Martha, Strozier and some family and friends headed to brunch. Afterward, Martha put on make-up and entered David’s Bridal in Hoover, Alabama, where she finally got to try on the dress of her dreams.
“When I first put on that dress, I was just so very excited,” Martha said. “It was like I was getting married all over again. When I saw myself in the mirror, I was shocked. I said to myself, ‘Who is that?’ I can’t even explain the feeling I got seeing myself in the wedding dress.”
Wearing her dress, a V-neck gown with embroidered, sheer sleeves and sequins throughout, Martha strutted down the store’s hallway as if it was a wedding aisle. Family members were overcome with emotions and immediately began crying, according to Strozier.
“Happy doesn’t really paint the picture of how this made me feel,” Strozier said. “My grandma has always been a giver, so to be able to finally give her an experience so dear to her was priceless. Happy is an understatement.”
Amid the joy, Strozier says she and her family could not help but acknowledge the dark history that resulted in so much injustice against Black people in the United States.
“My grandma is a living, surviving citizen that went through segregation, fighting for equality, not just for Black Americans but for women, and she’s still alive,” she said. “We take for granted the basic things we do now without paying homage to those whose shoulders we stand on, even though we as Black people continue to fight for equality.”
Lehman Tucker didn’t live long enough to see his wife in a wedding dress. He died of a heart attack in 1975, just a couple years shy of their 25th wedding anniversary.
“I wish he was here to see me in the dress,” Martha said. “When I got married, I promised myself I would wear a wedding dress one day, and at least I finally did.”
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