In 1924, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was held in New York, famed composer George Gershwin completed Rhapsody in Blue, and Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher got married.
The Fishers’ marital longevity has earned them a spot in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-married, living couple. The two have been married for 86 years.
According to published reports, their granddaughter, Iris Godette, led the family through the process to gain the honor.
“If there was ever love, it’s between my parents,” said Norma Godette, one of the Fisher’s five children. “By example, they have taught us how to treat others as we would like to be treated, and to live our lives according to the Ten Commandments,” Godette told BlackAmericaweb.com. “They taught us to love and respect everyone.”
Since earning the record, the James City, N.C. couple has been in the news seemingly nonstop. The lawn of their ranch-style home was covered in banners and signs celebrating the Guinness recognition. The attention that they’ve received has included newspapers, magazines and websites from all over the country. They were the subject of the “Little Known Black History” segment on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and they’ve been promised a visit to the White House at the invitation of President Barack Obama.
A part of the couple’s successful union apparently involved allowing each other space. The duo has attended different churches for much of their marriage. He’s a longtime member of Pilgrim Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, and she belongs to Jones Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.
Although she is moving a bit slower these days, their daughter said, the Fishers are still very active. Her father, Herbert, is 104, and her mother, Zelmyra, is 102.
“He goes to church every Sunday,” Norma Godette said of her father.
To put the length of the Fishers’ marriage into perspective, they had been married for 29 years when famed actor Kirk Douglas married his second wife, Anne, in 1954 and for 39 years when comedian Bill Cosby married his wife, Camille, in 1964.
And even though Mrs. Fisher insists that there are no secrets to their marital marathon, they could probably write a book on the subject. “No secrets,” she told a hometown newspaper. “There isn’t any secret. It was only God that kept us together.”
The South Florida Times’ efforts to reach the couple were unsuccessful. They are reportedly overwhelmed by the onslaught of media attention since the record was announced.
The Fishers are an anomaly in the black community, where marriage has been on the decline since the 1960s. Today, African Americans have the lowest marriage rate of any demographic in the country. In 2001, according to the U. S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in the U.S. had never been married. Their white counterparts were remaining single at rates of 27.4 and 20.7 percent, respectively.
Efforts are sprouting up across the country, seeking to reverse the trend.
On Oct. 3, Essence.com reported that U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Washington, D.C., hosted a forum when the Congressional Black Caucus convened in October 2009. The forum was dubbed, “Single women, Unmarried Men: What Has Happened to Marriage in the Black Community?”
The standing-room-only crowd was shocked to hear that the number of black children born to single mothers rose from 30 percent in 1970 to a staggering 70 percent today.
A prominent HBCU (historically black colleges and university) has established an institute to study the state of black marriages, and offer solutions.
Linda Malone-Colon is a Hampton University psychology professor who was instrumental in the establishment of the school’s new National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting. The center hosted a two-day summit in September, where it released a marriage index that shows a reduction in marriage rates among all Americans, but with declining figures in the black community that are cause for concern.
"There is a worsening crisis, and this crisis not only has implications for our children but for men and women in our community," Malone-Colon said in a statement preceding the conference.
The Fishers, however, are bucking the trend, and setting an example for younger generations.
Herbert Fisher told AARP’s Bulletin Today that he is amazed at his wedded longevity.
“I didn’t know I would be married this long,” the retired Coca-Cola Bottling Co. mechanic told Bulletin Today.
A hard-working hus-band and father, he built the family home in 1942 that he and his wife still inhabit.
The couple paid for the college educations of their five children, according to the AARP publication, and they also have 10 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.
Norma Godette summed up her parents' successful union like this in Bulletin Today: "I think it is a blessing first that two people can ultimately love each other, respect each other and still want to be each other’s friend. These days, you just don’t hear of a couple that stays together so long. They took those vows, ‘till death do us part,’ seriously. They have weathered the storms.
There were good times and bad times, but they stuck it out.”
Photo by DL Anderson. Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher celebrated their 86th anniversary on May 13, and hold the guinness world record for the longest marriage. Zelmyra is 102 years old. Herbert is 104. The couple, pictured here in their living room Aug. 14, has shared the same home in North Carolina for 50 years.