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White Couple Adopt Black Girl, Are Forced to Return Her for a White Daughter

Ayesha Muhammad
Jun 19, 2022
09:40 P.M.
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A white couple was already parents to two kids when they decided to grow their family and adopt another. But it was only later that they discovered they had adopted a black baby. The couple was soon faced with a painstakingly difficult decision.

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Love has a universal language that doesn't need words to be understood. Instead, if we have a heart that feels and cares for others, we'll somehow be able to experience love in one way or the other. Often, kids learn the meaning of genuine and heartwarming love from their parents.

When a child takes their first step or speaks the first word, parents are delighted, and their hearts swell with love. No parent would ever want to trade away the precious feeling of holding their little one and being there for them. Sadly, the couple in today's story made a decision that continued weighing down on them.

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HER BROTHER'S REMARK

One day, Amy Roost decided to join her two brothers to play football in their family's half-acre backyard. But despite her insistence, they refused to let her play.

She continued to beg them, but they didn't change their minds. Instead, one of her siblings tossed the ball at her so hard that she started to cry. But that wasn't all. He scrutinized her facial expressions and said:

"Our other sister was a real girl."

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A NAGGING QUESTION

Roost, who had been crying before for being left out of the game, suddenly got back up on her feet and began processing her brother's comment. She was eight at the time and recalled being utterly dumbfounded. Who was the other sister her brother had referred to?

Her parents were divorced by the time she was ten, and she became distant from her father over time.

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THE STORY SHE NEVER KNEW

Soon afterward, she ran to her mother and told her what her brother Bobby had said. But it seemed that Roost was still not done saying everything, and she proceeded to ask her mom another stinging question:

"Is it true that you had a daughter before me?"

Roost said that her mother, Marge Sandberg, turned to look at her and added, "Listen carefully, because I'm only going to tell you this story once." The youngster listened intently as her mother began narrating the story that would soon change everything she had once known.

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A FAMILY SECRET

Around 1970 in Deerfield, Illinois, Marge decided to share a secret about a challenging decision her family had to make — one that never stopped haunting them. The story started with a developer who bought a piece of land in 1959 to construct 51 homes.

He said he would sell a dozen of those homes to black people. However, his decision was not welcomed by the small Deerfield community, who had spent years growing up in the image of mid-20th-century suburban America, and was virtually all white.

The locals rallied against the developer and clearly said they wanted to safeguard the racial order. Soon, severe racial tensions arose in the area and the entire neighborhood experienced unlikely circumstances that only fueled unrest and chaos.

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ADOPTING ANOTHER BABY

Among the people who wished for the housing project to move forward were Marge and her husband, Len, who had moved to Deerfield with their two adopted sons in the mid-1950s. Len was a Jew and strongly sympathized with persecuted minority groups. Marge also joined a local group that supported the development.

But in the wake of the racial tensions in the neighborhood, the city seized the land from the developer and constructed a park. Meanwhile, the Sandbergs, who wished to grow their family, decided to adopt another baby, a daughter. They hired a lawyer, who matched them with a woman looking to place her newborn girl for adoption.

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The little girl, whom they planned to call Rebecca, was born on April 19, 1962. But when she arrived at the Sandberg residence days later, both Marge and Len were taken aback. The baby girl was black.

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A TOUGH DECISION

After seeing the baby, Mr. Sandberg said he was reminded of the racial upheaval in their community, and the prospect of a black child prospering in a predominantly white region looked dim. Also, interracial adoptions were very uncommon at the time. About his decision, Len recalled:

"I said at that point that I wasn’t going to go forward with it."

However, Marge disapproved of her husband's decision and tried to make him change his mind, but Len said he didn't budge. On Roost's WNYC's Snap Judgment podcast, Mr. Sandberg noted that he didn't keep the black baby because growing up in a white community would have been difficult for her.

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THEY NEVER FORGOT ABOUT HER

But Len confessed that if he were to consider adopting a black baby in present times, he would do it because the times had drastically changed. Sadly, back in the day, things were different, and Mr. Sandberg said he sent the girl back to social services.

A few months later, the Sandbergs adopted a newborn white girl and named her Amy. As time went by, Marge and Len quickly took on the role of their daughter's parents, but they never forgot about the black baby girl they had been forced to return.

In 1997, Ms. Sandberg died of cancer, but she kept journal entries that said she thought about the baby girl every April, her birthday month. Marge and Len eventually parted ways and divorced, and the family never discussed what had happened.

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LOOKING FOR HER SIBLING

Over the years, the Sandberg couple's white daughter, Roost, went on to marry and was reminded of the family secret again in 2012, after Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was killed by a neighborhood watchman in Florida, starting a national debate about racial disparities in America.

Roost said she wondered if the girl her parents returned had ended up facing the consequences of the country's racial divide. So after graduating from George Washington University and dabbling in politics, academia, nonprofits, and journalism, Roost sought to find the sister she never had.

In 2015, Roost finally found her parents' first adopted daughter, Angelle Kimberly Smith, after digging through Illinois adoption and birth records and some online sleuthing. But to her surprise, the conversation didn't go as she had imagined.

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GROWING UP WITH LOVING PARENTS

According to Ms. Roost, Angelle "was really, really cool about it." That was because after she was given up, she was adopted by a loving couple, Harry and Ruth Smith, who were black. Her dad ran a stationery store, and her mom was a homemaker.

Per Angelle, she had a comfortable and solid upbringing in a black middle-class neighborhood on Chicago's south side and went to a private grammar school. When she turned eight, her dad died of a heart attack, after which her mother started running the stationery store. Angelle expressed:

"I was raised by people that really loved me and really wanted me."

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As an adult, Angelle said she moved to Los Angeles. After a rough patch in life, she earned an associate degree, started working on bachelor's and master's degrees online, and became a counselor. Later, she also searched for her birth parents but didn't find them.

ENDURING THE HARD TIMES

On the other hand, Roost said she also endured tumultuous times, despite growing up in a wealthy white family, attending luxe parties, and taking overseas vacations. Her parents were divorced by the time she was ten, and she became distant from her father over time.

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NOTHING BUT GRATITUDE

However, when Roost found Angelle and the two women, both 55, eventually connected, Angelle said she was at a point in her life where she could handle anything. Angelle also told Roost she had no bitter feelings for the Sanderbergs and was grateful for her life. She added:

"I'm really grateful from the bottom of my heart, I'm so grateful. I was adopted or chosen twice before I was one month old. Having the belief system that I do, I believe that all things work together for good. I believe that nothing happens to you, it happens for you."

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A SWEET EXCHANGE

Angelle told Roost that the one and only time she met Mr. Sanderberg was at a restaurant in California, where they hugged. "Thank you so much," whispered Angelle in Len's ear, and he asked her why she had thanked him. With a smile on her face, Angelle responded:

"I don’t know if you've battled with this through the years, but you did the right thing."

When Angelle was done talking, she saw a wave of relief take over Len. "I watched 50 years' worth of guilt and shame roll off of him," added Angelle.

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SISTERS BY CHOICE

Despite the events in their past, Roost was glad to have finally met Angelle, the sister she never thought she had. The two women call each other "sisters" now and continue to stay in touch and celebrate each other's birthdays.

As is evident from this story, everything happens for a reason. Had the parents not returned the girl, her life could have been much worse. Do you think the parents were justified in giving back the baby, and that their action saved her from suffering as a black child in a white community?

What would you do if you were in their place? Please share this story with those who have had to make difficult and life-changing decisions.

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