‘Marriage is not an event. It’s a journey … you learn from each other every day’

By Chanda Temple 
Special to The Birmingham Times 
All photos by NicTay Photography

Cornelius Harris and Judith Harris   

Married: May 27, 1967

Live: Birmingham’s Brook Highland neighborhood.

Met: Cornelius and Judith’s older brother were friends while on the football team at Birmingham’s Westfield High School. But it would be a year after Cornelius’ high school graduation before he and Judith would meet. One day in 1965, Cornelius drove to Judith’s home to see her older brother. As soon as Cornelius arrived in his gold Chevrolet Corvair, Judith took notice. “I didn’t know him at all, but when he got out of the car, he was tall and very handsome,’’ Judith said. “I have never seen anyone as tall as Cornelius. That got my attention.’’

They hit it off and started dating immediately.

The proposal: While on a date to celebrate Judith’s birthday, Cornelius proposed. Judith said, “Yes!”

The wedding day: They exchanged vows in her mother’s living room on May 27, 1967. Judith’s mother made her blue lace wedding dress. Judith wore a new blue hat she found at Goldstein & Cohen in Ensley.  Judith’s mother and sisters made mini sandwiches. The newlyweds later went to Cornelius’ father’s home for a post-wedding celebration, complete with wedding sandwiches and dancing. “We didn’t have any money (for a big wedding),’’ Judith said. “We just wanted to get married.’’ Cornelius surprised Judith with a two-day honeymoon at the A.G. Gaston Motel in downtown Birmingham.

Celebrating love: For their one-year anniversary, they dined at the A.G. Gaston Supper Club, one of only a few restaurants in a segregated Birmingham in 1968 that offered fine dining for African Americans. Cornelius always made their anniversary a special event.  For their 25th anniversary, they traveled to Hawaii for a week. Other anniversary trips included an Alaskan cruise, a beach trip to Aruba, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Napa Valley, Florida, the Bahamas, New York and other locations.

For their 50th anniversary, they had a dinner party at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook on their actual wedding date.  “My husband was very excited about the planning, the invitations, the guest list and all the little details,” Judith said. “We ordered personalized postage stamps, and Cornelius got a kick out of those. He was very supportive and wanted to make sure we had a fantastic party.’’

Some of the same people in attendance at the 1967 wedding attended the 2017 anniversary party. One of their high school teachers also attended the 2017 event.

Words of wisdom: “Take marriage one day at a time. Marriage is not an event. It’s a journey,’’ Judith said. “And what I mean by that is you learn from each other every day.’’

She added that God is their Sustainer and each day, they trust Him to help them create more happy memories. “Every day is a blessing and a lesson. I’m grateful for our journey to this point,” Judith said.

“In spite of all the things (health issues) we have been through, we believe the best is yet to come.”

Happily ever after: Cornelius is a retired Birmingham Police Department training officer and a retired Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department deputy sheriff. They have three children and 12 grandchildren. Judith is a retired BellSouth collections operations manager. She has also worked as a wedding event planner for 30 years.

Earlier this year, Judith planned a wedding for her granddaughter, Eden Williams Cockrell. For something borrowed, Eden paired the headpiece Judith wore to her 50th wedding anniversary party with a veil. Eden also wore a pair of Judith’s earrings. “These are things Eden wanted to do,’’ Judith said. “To see her, establishing a family tradition, made us feel wonderful.’’