I’m still baffled sometimes about the lengths people have to go through to have their relationships recognized legally. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, today my story is about Mildred and Richard Loving, whose love story was depicted in the 2016 movie “Loving” about their 1967 Supreme Court case that led to the end of laws banning interracial marriage. Ruth Negga, the actress who played Mildred Loving in the movie, is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Their simple desire to live as husband and wife in their home state of Virginia resulted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling that continues to have nationwide reach today.
When I recently watched the 2012 HBO documentary “The Loving Story,” I was struck by the Lovings’ story about growing up in Central Point, a small community in Virginia where blacks and whites mingled and worked together. When Mildred and Richard decided to marry in 1958, interracial marriage was illegal in the state of Virginia and violated the anti-miscegenation (race- mixing) statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. After the sheriff entered their home early one morning confirming their marriage, they were arrested and jailed. They were sentenced to a year in jail or given the option to leave the state and not return together for 25 years. They pleaded guilty to violating the Virginia law and accepted the plea bargain.
After relocating to Washington, D.C., Mildred spoke of their frustration to a family member, who encouraged her to write then Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. In her letter, she asked if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 might allow her and her husband to return to Virginia. Kennedy responded that that it didn’t and suggested she write the American Civil Liberties Union, which accepted the case. Richard’s argument was simple, “Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” ACLU lawyers were unsuccessful in having the case vacated by the judge who oversaw the conviction. They took the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which also upheld the original ruling.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court case overturned the other rulings. The court unanimously held that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional and that freedom to marry belonged to all Americans. At that time, 16 states banned interracial marriage. Alabama was the last state to legalize interracial marriage in 2000. The Lovings didn’t set out to be civil rights activists. “What happened, we really didn’t intend for it to happen,” Mildred said in an interview. “What we wanted, we wanted to come home.”