African-American History Month: The Lovings

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today’s Black History Month post absolutely had to include something about love because I just couldn’t ignore this notorious holiday while trying to recognize my cultural history.  However, the quest for civil rights hardly ever included LOVE as a precedent.  So imagine my excitement when I remembered this historic civil rights Supreme Court case: Loving v. Virginia.

Mildred (nee Jeter), an African- and Native American, and Richard, a Caucasian, began seeing each other in secretly as teenagers.  After 5-7 years of dating, Mildred became pregnant at the age of 18.  Both, already in love and eager to tie the knot, decided to get married.  They drove 90 miles north to Washington DC and married in a civil ceremony, returning to their hometown of Central Point, Virginia thereafter.

A couple of weeks later, following an anonymous tip that the Loving couple was in violation of the law, the sheriff’s department burst into the Loving home and demanded to know why they were sleeping together.  When Mildred explained she was Richard’s wife and pointed to the marriage certificate hanging on the wall, the sheriff promptly replied, “That’s no good here.”  Richard went to jail, as did the still pregnant Mildred, and eventually the two pleaded guilty to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which held that interracial dating, marriage and cohabitation was illegal in Virginia.  Their marriage license and Mildred’s pregnancy were both used as evidence in their case.  Their respective one-year sentences were suspended: with the provision that the Loving leave Virginia permanently and not return as a couple for 25 years.  The Lovings complied, moving to Washington DC, and only visited family and friends at home separately.

This was their life for about five years, but by 1963, the Lovings were fed up.  They contacted the infamous Robert F. Kennedy who referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The ACLU filed several motions on behalf of the Lovings, famously ending with an argument at the federal Supreme Court on which stated that the couple’s banishment and ostracism from Virginia was unconstitutional under the precedents of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The case was argued with the Supreme Court on April 10th and on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to with the sole purpose of enforcing white supremacy.

The Loving v. Virginia ruling caused a dramatic increase in interracial marriages across America, but particularly in the South.  Today, among opposite-sex couples, 1 in 10 marriages (5.4 million) are
interracial, based on the 2010 census.  Even 21% of same sex marriages are interracial or interethnic.  The Loving ruling quite literally changed the face of love and marriage in the United States.  While enslaved, African-Americans produced mixed (or what was considered “mulatto”) children by force when raped or required to lie with their overseers and estate masters.  But the Loving case made the willful decision to marry between races legal, causing an ethnic integration never before seen in America.  Now bi- and/or multiracial has become an option on American forms everywhere to accommodate Americans born of unions between interracial couples.  This case was also cited in the overturning of same sex marriages in Utah in December 2013 in its decision of Kitchen v Herbert, establishing that love and the opportunity of marriage should be denied to no one.

The Lovings’ story was made into two movies: Mr. & Mrs. Loving (1996) starring Lela Rochon and Timothy Hutton, and The Loving Story produced by HBO and aired on Valentine’s Day 2012.  The Lovings proved that love truly has no boundaries.  What an incredible thing to remember on a day like today.

Mildred Loving Biography
Loving v. Virginia
USA Today 4.26.12

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