The Lovings vs. Virginia: The story about the interracial couple who helped eliminate anti-miscegenation laws that still existed in sixteen US states in 1967

 
 

Anti-miscegenation laws and regulations in the United States were present since colonial days and unfortunately, they enforced racial segregation at the level of intimate relationships. As a consequence, interracial marriage and sometimes even sexual intercourse among members of different races was considered criminal. These forms of restrictive legislation were abolished at one point by the Republicans, but after that were reimposed by Democrats, and by 1967, 16 states in total, all of which were Southern, still had anti-miscegenation laws.

What neither political party managed to repeal, was done by one couple and their efforts to surpass all legal barriers to obtain their basic human right to marriage. This was the story of Mildred Delores Loving who was an African-American with Native American ancestry, and Richard Perry Loving who was white. Their story begins in 1958 when Mildred became pregnant and the couple traveled from their home state of Virginia to Washington, D.C., to get married. That way, the Lovings attempted to evade Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act 1924, which prohibited marriage between whites and colored people. In fact, such an act was actually considered a crime and people were sent to prison for it.

Racial Integrity Act of 1924.

Allegedly, in their small town of Central Point in Virginia, somebody had told the local police about their relationship. It may sound far-fetched these days, but upon the Lovings’ return from Washington D.C on July 11, 1958, the police raided their home in the early morning hours, hoping to find them having sex. Mildred and Richard were asleep in their bed and upon interrogation, Mildred had shown the officers their marriage certificate.

They were told the certificate was invalid in the Commonwealth, and the Lovings were consequently accused under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of the state and then returning to Virginia. They were also accused as per Section 20-59 that suggested their marriage was a criminal act. The punishment for such “crimes” usually resulted in the imprisonment of between one and five years.

In January of the following year, the Lovings pled guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth”, and thus were sentenced to one year in prison. A way out of jail was that they would both leave Virginia and not return together for at least 25 years. The Lovings opted for the second option and moved to the District of Columbia, but that was not the end of the story.

In Colombia, the couple felt isolated and lived on a short budget, but they had been also frustrated that they were unable to travel together and see their families in Virginia. Subsequently, Mildred wrote a letter complaining to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, brother of President Kennedy. She conclusion to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who pushed some pressure on the local court to reconsider their charges to the Lovings.

 

The U.S States by the date of repeal of anti-miscegenation laws: the ones in green from 1780 to 1887; the ones in yellow from 1948 to 1967 and the ones in red after 1967. The states which are colorless mean they had no laws passed. Photo credit

After a year of waiting, the Lovings received the following answer from the local court in Virginia, “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 no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

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