June 12, 1967: The United States Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia declares all U.S. state laws which prohibit interracial marriage to be unconstitutional.
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), was a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other.
Their marriage violated the state’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored.” The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision held this prohibition was unconstitutional, overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
The decision was followed by an increase in interracial marriages in the U.S., and is remembered annually on Loving Day, June 12. It has been the subject of two movies as well as songs.
In the 2010s, it again became relevant in the context of the debate about same-sex marriage in the United States.
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, anti-miscegenation laws remained on the books in several states, although the decision had made them unenforceable.
In 2000, Alabama became the last state to adapt its laws to the Supreme Court’s decision, removing a provision prohibiting mixed-race marriage from its state constitution. Approximately 60 percent of voters voted for the removal of the anti-miscegenation rule, and 40 percent against.
The plaintiffs in the case were Mildred Delores Loving, née Jeter, a woman of African-American and Rappahannock Native American descent, and Richard Perry Loving, a white man.
At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant. In June 1958, the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, thereby evading Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriage a crime.
They returned to the small town of Central Point, Virginia. Based on an anonymous tip, local police raided their home at night, hoping to find them having sex, which was also a crime according to Virginia law.
When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. That certificate became the evidence for the criminal charge of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” that was brought against them.
The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified miscegenation as a felony, punishable by a prison sentence up to five years.
The trial judge in the case, Leon M. Bazile, echoed Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s 18th-century interpretation of race:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty. They were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave Virginia. They decided to move to Washington, D.C.
In 1964, frustrated by their inability to travel together to visit their families in Virginia, in addition to social isolation and financial difficulties in Washington, Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU filed a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violated statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment. This set in motion a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the Supreme Court.
The couple had three children: Donald, Peggy, and Sidney. Richard Loving died aged 41 in 1975, when a drunk driver struck his car in Caroline County, Virginia. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident. She died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008, in Milford, Virginia, aged 68.
In the United States, the date of the decision, June 12, has become known as Loving Day, an annual unofficial celebration of interracial marriages.
In 2014, Mildred Loving was honored as one of the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Women in History.”
In Pop Culture:
The story of the Lovings became the basis of two films. The first film, Mr. & Mrs. Loving (1996), was written and directed by Richard Friedenberg and starred Lela Rochon, Timothy Hutton and Ruby Dee. According to Mildred Loving, “Not much of it was very true. The only part of it right was I had three children.” The second film, The Loving Story, premiered on HBO on February 14, 2012.
In music, the case has been the subject of Drew Brody’s Ballad of Mildred Loving (Loving in Virginia).
Nanci Griffith’s 2009 song, The Loving Kind, was written after Griffith read Mildred Loving’s obituary in the New York Times.
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