Richard and Mildred Loving
Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter first met as teenagers in Caroline County, Virginia where they were both born and raised.(1) With Brown v. Board of Education that concluded that segregation was unconstitutional decided not even a decade prior, people of various racial backgrounds in the country had long lived intermingled lives. Richard Loving’s father worked for a black landowner, and so strict segregation was not common except in some officially segregated places and areas.(2) Additionally, mixed-race ancestry was not uncommon especially with American Indians. Mildred herself was of both African and American Indian ancestry, and she self-identified often as Indian instead of black.(3)
In 1958, Richard and Mildred decided to travel to Washington, D.C. to marry after an extended courtship. When they returned back to Virginia, however, they were woken by police officers coming into their bedroom in the middle of the night.(4) They had come to arrest them for inappropriate cohabitation indicating that their marriage was void in the state of Virginia.(5) After being found guilty of trying to dodge the Virginia marriage laws, Judge Leon Bazile explained his reasoning for purpose of the anti-miscegenation, or anti-marriage between races, laws as follows. “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.”(6) The judge did suspend their jail sentence with their agreement that they would not return to Virginia as a married couple for 25 years. Unfortunately, the Lovings were unaware of their ability to appeal the ruling and were forced to live in Washington, D.C. When they returned to Virginia to visit Mildred’s family five years later, they were again arrested, but this time they wrote a letter to the Attorney General asking for help.(7) He referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union, and Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop took on the case.(8)
The Fight for the Right to Marry
The road to freedom was long for Richard and Mildred Loving. The battle was much bigger than overcoming a law. It “…struck at the bedrock of racism: Classifying human beings into supposedly biological races that should be kept apart.”(9) The obstacle of legalized racism was a much greater obstacle to overcome. Their void marriage in Virginia not only meant that they could not live together, but also had many other consequences. Their children would be considered illegitimate and receive not any kind of parental death benefits. Additionally, the spouses would have no rights to inheritance.(10) Eventually, the Loving’s lawyers appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.(11) The Lovings were shocked when their lawyers told them their case was accepted to be heard. Thought they were encouraged by the ongoing Civil Rights Movement at the time, they had never intended to be political heroes or activists.(12) They were simple people with a simple purpose. As Richard Loving explained, “Mr. Cohen, tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”(13) Virginia was their home, and they could not live there as a family.
As Mr. Cohen went on to explain to the Court, the anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia were founded on white supremacy and segregation, not any evidence of legitimate concern for the results mixed-race marriages. One of the main issues was that because of the legal and social situation in Virginia, there were little to no interracial marriages to gather any evidence from.(14) Cohen described how it is clear the laws of Virginia were intended to uphold white supremacy because they do not forbid non-white races from intermarrying. Therefore, it is invalid to say the law is to maintain all racial integrity regardless of whether or not racial integrity should be sought after. Because the white race is the only race the law sought to maintain, the law makes a statement of superiority of the white race above other races. Therefore, Virginia law contradicted Equal Protection.(15)
Secondly, Cohen argued the anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional because they “violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”(16) Virginia’s laws deprived its citizens of the right to marry whom they choose, and according to the Fourteenth Amendment, the government may not deny anyone of life, liberty, or property without going through due process of law.(17) “With little discussion, the Court concluded that Virginia’s law was inconsistent with due process protections for marriage. The immediate import of Loving was clear: states no longer had the power to prohibit interracial marriage.”(18) On June 12th, 1967, the courts final conclusion ruled unanimously in favor of the Lovings, and that marriage was a basic civil right of all people.(19)
The Legacy of Loving v. Virginia
The lasting impacts of Loving v. Virginia are profound. There are still many questions as to what rights should be considered basic rights for all people, how the Constitution should be interpreted, and many others.(20) Though it does not get ample attention compared to other Civil Rights cases, this case redefined what Americans knew as marriage– a major part of everyday family life. It has been almost 50 years since this landmark case, and many people today look back on this decision with enormous gratefulness. “Loving remains a shining reminder that our freedoms as Americans depend on engagement and perseverance; on faith in our ability to reach past personal discomfort, cultural or religious defense of discrimination, and seemingly intractable injustice to open hearts and minds and change the law; and on respect for the role of constitutions and courts in upholding equality under the law despite the prejudices of the majority or passions of the moment.”(21) A statement Mildred Loving herself made in honor of the 40th anniversary of the verdict was one of the greatest legacies of this case. She discussed how the outcome of this law is more than just a legal notion; it affects real people and their real lives. She took a stand for love.(22) There is still a long way to go; Alabama only just repealed their anti-miscegenation laws in 2000.(23) Yet, this case reminds Americans that there is hope for change and hope for love.
Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech, audio recording, April 10, 1967. “Oral Argument of Loving v. Virginia.” Accessed on November 30, 2016. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1966/395
Coleman, Arica L. “The White and Black Worlds of Loving v. Virginia.” TIME Magazine, November 2016.
“Copy of Appeal from Loving v. Virginia.” May 27, 1966, Appellate Jurisdiction Case Files, National Archives. Accessed on November 30, 2016. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7873520
Davis to Cohen, telegram, June 12, 1967, Appellate Jurisdiction Case Files, National Archives. Accessed on November 8, 2016. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7873521
“Decision, Loving v. Virginia.” June 12, 1967, Appellate Jurisdiction Case Files, National Archives. Accessed on November 30, 2016. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7873519
Gordon-Reed, Annette. Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History. NY: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Maillard, Kevin N. and Rose C. Villazor. Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Marriage. NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Martin, Douglas. “Mildred Loving, Who Battled Ban on Mixed-Race Marriage, Dies at 68.” The New York Times, May 6, 2008: B7.
NBC Nightly News. “The Loving Case.” Aired February 14, 2012 on NBC. Accessed on November 30, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLngXMpv8Z4
Roberts, Dorothy E. “Loving v. Virginia as a Civil Rights Decision.” New York Law School Law Review 59, no. 1 (2014): 175-209.
“The Crime of Being Married.” Life Magazine, March 1966: 85-86.
United States. Afroyim v. Rusk (1967); Reitman v. Mulkey (1967); Loving v. Virginia (1967). Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America, 1975.
Wolfson, Evan. “Loving v. Virginia and Mrs. Loving – Speak to Us Today.” Howard Law Journal 51, no. 1 (2007): 187-192.