This Couple Overturned the Ban on Interracial Marriage in the South

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On July 22, 1939, Mildred Delores Jeter was born in Central Point, Virginia. She was born into a diverse family including Native American descent, specifically from the Cherokee and Rappahannock tribes, and African American. Richard Perry Loving was born on October 29, 1933. His family was of  European decent.

She was a soft-spoken student who attended an all-black high school. It was during that time she met her future husband. The two began dating, quietly, of course, and fell in love. At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant. However, in America, he was white, she was colored, and this was a big no-no.

Virginia and the other southern states passed a law in 1924 called the Racial Integrity Act. It was this specific ruling that barred Mildred and Richard from saying ‘I do.’ The two decided to travel to Washington D.C. to get married. The happy newlyweds returned home to Caroline County, Virginia.

Just a couple weeks after tying the knot, Sheriff Garnett Brooks and two deputies broke into their home. Based on an anonymous tip, they hoped to catch them in the act, which was also illegal. Mildred recalls the sheriff demanded to know her relationship to the white man after he bombarded into their bedroom.

She replied, “I’m his wife,” and pointed to their marriage certificate. Unfortunately, the piece of paper that hung on the wall was invalid in Virginia because Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, like many other states, forbade couples to wed in a different state and return to their home state to live as a married couple.

It was in the wee morning hours of July 11, 1958, that they were hauled off to jail. Naturally, Richard was in jail for one night whereas the very pregnant Mildred stayed much longer. They pleaded guilty to breaking the law. A plea bargain was given to them: a one-year felonious sentence or the option to leave Virginia and not return together for the next 25 years. They chose the latter.

The Loving’s moved to Washington, D.C. Mildred, Richard, and their three children would visit friends and family in Virginia, but they were forced to do it separately. This was not ideal, to say the least, and in 1963 Mildred had enough. She was not only unhappy living in the city, but her son was struck by a car.

The Civil Rights Movement was gaining ground; America needed a change. It was then that Mildred penned a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for help. He responded and referred her situation to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The organization accepted the Loving’s case.

The first attempt ACLU lawyers Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop took in reversing the order was a failure. In fact, the presiding Judge Leon M. Bazile wrote in January 1965, “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.”

Bravely, the lawyers pushed the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Once again, the ruling was unsuccessfully changed. It was at this point that the Loving’s case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments took place on April 10, 1967, on behalf of Loving v. Virginia.

The commonwealth of Virginia fought that the ban on interracial marriage did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because both white and black parties were equally punished for their crimes. Further, this law was specifically designed to prevent sociological ills that would result in the marriage of races.

In defense, the ACLU lawyers and Loving’s legal team motioned the fact that the state law did not coincide with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbade couples to marriage based on their race alone.

Richard Loving only had one thing to say about the case. He urged to “tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

The case took months to close, but finally on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled for the Loving’s explaining anti-miscegenation laws including Virginia’s statue to not allow couples to return home violated not only the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment but also the Due Process Clause.

Chief Justice Earl Warren stated on behalf of the court that marriage is a basic civil right to humans. Denying this right based on race is “directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment” and denies Americans “liberty without due process of law.”

After the national ruling, the happy couple was able to move back to Caroline County. They built a home and raised their children there. In 1975, Richard was tragically killed when a drunk driver hit his car. Mildred went blind in her right eye because of the accident.

Since the ruling, several movies, shows, and books have been created in honor of not only the case but the Loving’s. Naturally, Mildred shied away from the attention and refused most interviews.

In 1992, she did have this to say about the case: “What happened, we really didn’t intend for it to happen… What we wanted, we wanted to come home.”

The Loving children.

Loving Day is an unofficial holiday on June 12. It celebrates not only their beautiful love story, but multiculturalism everywhere.

It was not until 2000 when Alabama was the last state to strip all of the anti-miscegenation laws from state constitutions. Any argument against the prohibition of interracial marriage is eradicated from all state and federal constitutions.

On May 2, 2008, Mildred Loving passed away due to complications with pneumonia. She was 68 years old. She proudly stated, “I married the only man I ever loved, and I’m happy for the time we had together.” Her legacy lives on in her two children, multiple grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

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