'Triumph of Rosemary'


Retired judge pens memoir about defying race, religion

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Calling her life a “triumph” would be an understatement.

After all, she was born shortly after World War II, a mixed race baby in a nation still grappling with the evils of segregation. As an orphan placed in foster care, she was adopted by a Saginaw couple and for years was subjected to extreme physical and emotional abuse by her mother.

At age 19, she sparked “a racial and religious scandal” by marrying a former Roman Catholic priest, who was white and 25 years her senior, earning banishment “to hell by a bishop” and the scorn of their families by “defying the racial, religious, and romantic conventions” of the time.

The plot of this real life drama for the “racial renegade” then took a turn for the better thanks to the lure of the law. The career choice would lead to more than three decades in public service, culminating in a string of six terms as chief judge of one of the “largest and busiest” courts in the country.

In short, this story has all the twists and turns of a compelling movie, the kind invariably spawned by a book containing even richer detail.

In this case, the book is titled, “The Triumph of Rosemary: A Memoir” written by Marylin E. Atkins, the retired chief judge of the 36th District Court in Detroit. The book, somewhat coincidentally, is being released during the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, a June 12, 1967 ruling that struck down laws in 16 states banning interracial marriage.

That decision, of course, served as the centerpiece of the 2016 movie “Loving,” a film that celebrates the love story at the heart of the landmark case.

Atkins, now 71 and the mother of two daughters, has no illusions that her book will find its way onto Hollywood’s silver screen. Instead, she had a singular focus in mind when pen met paper in chronicling her life story.

“I want people of every age to read my story and believe that no matter how difficult their life circumstances might be, they can beat the odds like I did,” said Atkins, who retired from the bench in 2012, some 22 years after her husband died. “My life shows that vision, determination, and hard work, plus family teamwork, are the keys to success.”

Fittingly, her daughters, Elizabeth Ann Atkins and Catherine Marie Greenspan, are the publishers of the book. Both products of the University of Michigan, Elizabeth and Catherine are combining with their mother in another publishing sense, “actually making history as the first mother and two daughters to simultaneously release books that they each wrote themselves and that the daughters are publishing.”

The fact serves as a special source of pride for the retired jurist, who earned her J.D. from the University of Detroit School of Law.

“I am so proud that my daughters are publishing this book through their publishing company,” Atkins said. “They grew up watching their father journal daily at the dining room table, then they both became authors who created a company called Two Sisters Writing and Publishing.”

In promoting the book, her daughters tell of its “vivid dialogue, raw revelations, and heartwarming messages” that “will make you laugh, cry, and appreciate the power of one woman to pioneer a place for herself and her family in a sometimes unwelcoming world that ultimately embraced and celebrated her family’s legacy of colorblind love.”

Atkins was born out of wedlock to an Italian teen and a married black man in Detroit, bearing the name “Rosemary.” Upon adoption, she was renamed “Marylin,” and as a child suffered mightily from her mother’s abuse, so much so that “I actually believed that it must be legal if your parent kills you,” Atkins wrote in the introduction to the book.

After suffering through even more abuse, this time at the hands of her boyfriend, Marylin then sought the guidance of her Catholic priest, unexpectedly “embarking on an epic and unconventional romance that defied the strict racial and religious mores of the times,” she said.

“Despite a quarter-century age difference and vastly different racial backgrounds, Thomas Lee Atkins and I were twin spirits,” she wrote. “We lived and loved as we desired, regardless of the painful consequences that others attempted to inflict upon us.

“People said our marriage wouldn’t survive for 24 hours; it thrived for 24 years until he died.”

Along the way, their journey would encounter more than its share of obstacles, particularly for an interracial couple raising their own children.

“People often worry that mixed-race children might suffer ‘tragic mulatto syndrome’ – too white to be black, too black to be white, forever cast into a racial gray area where they are confused, shunned, rejected, and sad,” Atkins wrote in her book.

“I beg to differ,” Atkins proclaimed. “Lee and I raised two daughters who are kind-hearted, exemplary citizens. They both earned graduate degrees in writing . . . They are writing their own books as well as ghostwriting books for extremely accomplished, respected individuals whose trust in their abilities testifies to their integrity and talent.”

Atkins spent four months writing her memoir, routinely waking up before dawn each morning “to write all day until bedtime.” The product of such work, she said, is far more than an “abundance of black words on white pages.” Instead, in total, it is a telling and compelling life story.

“You will find no gray area concerning my convictions about right and wrong, love and life, faith and forgiveness,” Atkins said.

“Here, in undeniable print, is my life for all to see.”



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