In 1958, Richard Loving drove his fiancé Mildred Jeter from their home in rural Central Point, Virginia to Washington, D.C. to get married. Then they returned to Virginia to live. A few weeks later, the county sheriff arrived in the middle of the night to arrest the couple for breaking the miscegenation laws.
Miscegenation, which is marriage or cohabitation between two people from different racial groups, was illegal in 24 states in 1958. Richard was white and Mildred was black. They were jailed even though Mildred was pregnant at the time. When brought to trial, they were given the option of spending one to five years in jail or accepting banishment from the state of Virginia for 25 years. They weren’t allowed to be in Virginia at the same time for the entire length of the banishment. They pled guilty and opted to leave for Washington, D.C. But when it was time for Mildred to have her baby, she returned to Virginia to be near her family for the delivery. Although it was illegal, Richard also returned with her.
Caught together in Virginia, they were arrested. The Lovings pled guilty to miscegenation and again were forced to leave town. They moved back to Washington, D.C. where they lived for several years and had two more children. But in 1963, Mildred wanting to return to Virginia, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy telling him of their situation. The soft-spoken couple was referred to the ACLU which led to Virginia court cases and appeals to decriminalize interracial marriage.
On March 18, 1966, the love story, not the court case, of Richard and Mildred Loving was depicted in Life Magazine in a photo essay titled, “The Crime of Being Married.”
After losing in Virginia, their case was brought before the United States Supreme Court. The couple opted not to attend the proceedings.
On April 10, 1967, their attorney, Bernard S. Cohen, presented the case to the Supreme Court adding Richard Loving’s statement, “Tell the judge that I love my wife.”
At that time there were still 16 states, all in the southeast quadrant of the United States, which prohibited marriage between a black person and a white person.
On June 12, 1967, the Court unanimously ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice Earl Warren’s opinion held that “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man fundamental to our very existence and survival.” This landmark case permanently changed the history of the United States. Now marriage between members of any ethnic group can no longer be prohibited.
In spite of the vitriol over a 2013 Cheerios commercial depicting an interracial couple and their adorable biracial daughter, 87% of Americans approve of interracial marriages. Only 4% approved in 1958.
Demographer, William Frey of the Brookings Institution said, “We’re becoming much more of an integrated, multiracial society.”
The documentary, “Loving Story,” depicting the lives of the Loving family, won the WGA Screenplay Award AFI Discovery Channel Silverdocs in 2011. Now the highly rated, poignant film, “Loving,” brings their love story to the big screen. The film recreated some of the scenes pictured in the Life Magazine article.
I give thanks to Richard and Mildred Loving for fighting so hard for their right to live as a married couple in their home state. Their selfless act changed our country in numerous ways and made it legal for me to enjoy the life I do with the man I love.