Samantha Mckelvie — Staff Writer
It was only 54 years ago when police invaded the home of Mildred and Richard Loving in the middle of the night, forced them out of bed, and arrested them for the crime of interracial marriage.
Mildred was of African-American and Native American decent; Richard was a white man. At the time there was a law in Virginia that banned the marriage of whites and ‘non-whites.’ Laws that banned interracial marriages were known as anti-miscegenation laws, and they existed in many states throughout the country.
I came to learn the story of the Lovings after stumbling upon an HBO documentary, called “The Loving Story,” about the couple’s fight to legally live as a married couple in the state of Virginia. The court case, Loving v. Virginia, was a landmark case that changed the laws on interracial marriages in the United States.
This story was particularly special to me because I am the product of an interracial marriage, and if the Lovings didn’t do what they did, I might not have been born. I’m half white and half black, and I’m proud of what I am. This story also touched me because I too am in an interracial relationship, and I might not have had the opportunity to be with the person I love if the Lovings did not have the bravery, heart and determination to fight for their love. Coincidentally, Loving was a fitting name for the couple; they embodied everything the word represented.
“It was love at first sight. To marry someone and then have to go through all that they went through, it was nothing but love,” said Peggy Loving, the daughter of the Lovings, in the documentary interview.
According to “The Loving Story,” Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving drove to Washington D.C. in 1958 to get married. They returned to their hometown of Caroline County, VA to live as a couple, unaware of the many challenges and struggles they would soon face. After their abrupt arrest, the Lovings pleaded guilty to their charges and were sentenced to a year in a state penitentiary.
“They were convicted under Virginia law, which forbids any white person and colored person from leaving the state for the purpose of marrying each other and with the intention of returning,” said reporter Robert Pierpoint in a CBS Newscast aired during that time.
The trial judge, Leon Bazile, suspended the sentence under the conditions that the Lovings leave Virginia without returning for 25 years. According to court documents, Bazile once stated in an opinion to the courts, “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.”
This statement disgusted me, to say the least.
The Lovings lived in Washington D.C. for five years but were very unhappy there. They wanted to be back in their hometown with their families, and they frequently snuck in and out of Virginia, occasionally getting caught and arrested.
After Mildred wrote a letter asking for help in 1963, attorney Bernard Cohen of the American Civil Liberties Union decided to help the Lovings free of charge. With the help of attorney Philip Hirschkop, the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, after many appeals.
On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court made a unanimous decision in favor of the Lovings. The decision read, as stated in a court document, “The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. 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.”
This ruling made bans against interracial marriages illegal in the 16 states where the bans still existed. Alabama was the last state to officially repeal its anti-miscegenation law, which occurred in 2000.
The fact that the Lovings had to go through so much just to be happy together saddens me. The fact that this took place only less than 60 years ago astonishes me. The fact that Alabama held out for so long sickens me.
This just goes to show that there will always be people in this world who are ignorant and full of hate. I see it in the news, on the Internet and on TV. I’ve even seen it firsthand when hateful people go out of their way to make negative comments and sneer at my boyfriend and I.
Many would like to think that we’ve come a long way from 1967, but I disagree. Even after people like the Lovings did what they did, there are laws in place today that ban certain marriages: I’m specifically referring to same-sex marriages.
Then, it was illegal for people who were different to get married. Now, it’s illegal for people who are the same to get married just because they’re the same sex. How does this make sense? As of now, same-sex marriages in the United States are not recognized by the federal government, and less than 10 of the 50 states permit same-sex marriages.
You’d think that people would learn from the past. Back then, a lot of people thought that banning interracial marriage was the right thing to do, and in hindsight, people today know that it was wrong. Today, a lot of people think that banning same-sex marriages is the right thing to do, and in hindsight, I’m almost positive that they will see how wrong it really is.
What makes these two situations different? Why can’t people realize that telling people who they can and cannot love is wrong? Laws restricting people from marrying who they want are wrong, and it shouldn’t take years of fighting and suffering for people in this country to realize this.
Mildred Loving once stated to ABC News in a 1967 interview, “I say I think that marrying who you want to is a right that no man should have anything to do with.” Mildred and Richard Loving knew what was right then but people still can’t see it today, and that is nothing but a shame.
During a time where racism was still very much present, Mildred and Richard were color blind. Tragically, after fighting to be together in Virginia for nine years, they were torn apart eight years later when Richard was killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. Mildred died in 2008.
But this is not a sad story. Mildred and Richard Loving fought for what they believed in and won. And even though they only got to enjoy their victory for a short time, their case has changed history, and their love will always be timeless.
I only wish that similar restrictions on marriages didn’t exist today. Unfortunately, the past and the present have shown us that change must be fought for. While I think it’s going to be a struggle for those who are involved, I hope that this new battle is a little less agonizing than the one the Lovings had to endure.