Mildred and Richard Loving
On July 11, 1958, newlyweds Richard and Mildred Loving were asleep in bed when three armed police officers burst into the room. The couple were hauled from their house and thrown into jail, where Mildred remained for several days, all for the crime of getting married. At that time, 24 states across the country had laws strictly prohibiting marriage between people of different races. Five weeks earlier, the longtime couple had learned Mildred was pregnant and decided to wed in defiance of the law. In order to evade Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, the pair had traveled to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. Upon their return to Virginia, they were arrested and found guilty, with the judge informing Mildred that “as long as you live you will be known as a felon.” The Lovings moved to the relative safety of Washington, but longed to return to their home state.
In 1963, they approached the American Civil Liberties Union to fight their case in court. After an extensive legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Although such laws officially remained on the books in several states, the Lovings’ landmark victory rendered them effectively unenforceable, ensuring nobody else would have to endure the same treatment. The last law officially prohibiting interracial marriage was repealed in Alabama in 2000.
Ruth Williams Khama and Sir Seretse Khama
While attending law school in England, Ruth met Sir 9(then Prince Seretse Khama), the chief of the Bamangwato tribe, who became Botswana’s first president in 1966. Under his leadership, the country underwent significant economic and social progress, while Ruth was a politically active and influential First Lady. But first they had to overcome the wave of bigotry brought about by their controversial marriage. When they announced the news in 1948, Ruth’s father threw her out of the house, while Seretse’s uncle declared “if he brings his white wife here, I will fight him to the death.”Bowing to pressure from apartheid South Africa, the British government attempted to stop the marriage and then prevented the couple from returning to Botswana.
For eight years they lived as exiles in England, until the Bamangwato sent a personal cable to the Queen in protest. Their sons Ian and Tshekedi later became significant political figures as well. The marriage is said to have inspired the film A Marriage of Inconvenience and the book Colour Bar.
Louisa and Louis Gregory
Both Louis Gregory, an African American man and Louisa Mathews, a British woman were of the Bahá’í faith: a religion centered on unity. The two met in 1911 on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Egypt. Their love for one another was not received well by the general public, especially in the United States, where racism was still very much the norm. In spite of the Bahá’í faith’s innermost message of “Oneness of Mankind,” many people of the faith living in Washington, D.C. adhered to the attitude of racial segregation that was rampant during the time.
With Bahá’í leader Abdu’l-Bahá declaring his staunch support for interracial marriages, Louis and Louisa were married in 1912 in New York, becoming the first interracial Bahá’í couple. Louis Gregory became a strong advocate for racial unity in both the United States as well as within the Bahá’í community; his most significant expression of the teachings of his faith come from his marriage. Despite countless obstacles, the couple remained married for almost 40 years, until Louis Gregory’s death in 1951.
Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray
In spite of the increased acceptance of interracial marriage across the United States, Bill de Blasio, elected Mayor of New York in 2013, is the first white official to be elected into a major office with a black spouse by his side. McCray is expected to play a major role in de Blasio’s administration.
While polls show that interracial marriages across the United States are increasingly accepted, some disapproval is still overt: A 2013 Cheerios ad featuring a biracial family sparked so many racist remarks on Youtube that comments had to be disabled.
Many celebrate the de Blasio marriage as another significant milestone and hope it will help combat the racism that still exists in a country constantly striving to uphold its cornerstone value of equality.