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.”

The Lovings did not stop here in their quest for equal rights and, still backed by the ACLU; they appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

They were unable to attend the hearings in Washington, but one of their lawyers Bernard S. Cohen had assured them that the court would hear the message by Richard Loving, which had been simple and humble, “Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

Principal photography for the film “Loving” (2016) took place in Richmond, Virginia. Photo credit

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Lovings’ conviction following a unanimous decision. The court had ruled out that the Virginia anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which since 1868, had provided that no state shall deny any person within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws.”

“The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State,” was also what Chief Justice Earl Warren, the 14th Chief Justice of the United States, had expressed as part of his opinion for the unanimous court.

The court’s final conclusion was that the Virginia law was racist and had been set to continue white supremacy, reading, “There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.”

In popular culture, June 12th has become known as “Loving Day” across the States, an annual unofficial celebration of marriages among people who have different races.

As for Mildred and Richard, unfortunately, they were in a car accident when a drunk driver struck them in Caroline County, Virginia, in 1975. Tragically, the crash was fatal for Richard who had lost his life, aged only 41. Mildred had lost her right eye in that same accident but had survived and lived until 2008 when she died of pneumonia, aged 68. The couple was survived by their three children: Donal, Peggy, and Sidney.

Ruth Negga speaking at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California. Critics were near unanimous in praise for Negga’s portrayal of Mildred. photo credit

 

Several films have depicted their astounding story and battle, the final one being released just recently in 2016 and starring with Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as the Lovings.

Read another story from us: The real Titanic love story of Ida and Isidor Strauss

The film was nominated for dozens of awards, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for Edgerton and Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Negga.