National Loving Day: The Fight against Racial Injustice
Love, the beauty of it, the joy of it and yes, even the pain of it, is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. And we deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame and without compromise.
So imagine this, imagine being in love with another human being, yet imprisoned because of the colour of your skin. Imagine a law telling you that loving another person was unjust and illegal because the colour of your skin did not match the skin colour of the one you loved. Imagine that.
It was today, June 12 1967 in the USA that marks the unofficial holiday honoring the ruling of the landmark case, Loving vs Virginia which made interracial marriage legal on June 12 1967.
Mildred and Richard Loving, pictured on their front porch in King and Queen County, Virginia in 1965. In June 1958, the couple went to Washington DC to marry, to work around Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 which made marriage between whites and non-whites a crime. After an anonymous tip, police officers raided their home a month later, telling the Lovings their marriage certificate was invalid. In 1959, the Lovings pled guilty to ‘cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth’
Photograph: © Grey Villet, 1965
In Caroline County Virginia USA, Mildred, a woman of African and Native American ancestry became pregnant to Richard Loving, a white man. Richard and Mildred Loving, were arrested in 1958 for violating a state law which, at the time, prohibited interracial marriage in the state of Virginia.
Richard kisses his wife as he arrives home from work. The Lovings were were sentenced to one year in prison, suspended if they left Virginia and did not return together for at least 25 years. The couple moved to Washington DC Photograph: © Grey Villet, 1965
“What are you doing in bed with this woman?” Sheriff R Garnett Brooks asked as he shone his flashlight on a couple in bed. It was 2 a.m. on July 11 1958 and the couple in question, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, had been married for five weeks. “I’m his wife,” Mildred responded. The sheriff, who was acting on an anonymous tip, didn’t relent with his questioning. Richard was of Irish and English descent, and Mildred of African American and Native American descent, and according to state law, it was crime for them to be married. They were arrested for violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Richard spent a night in jail before being released on a $1,000 bond his sister procured. Mildred, however, was not allowed a bond. She spent three nights alone in the small woman’s cell that only fit one. When she was finally released, it was to her father’s care. After the couple pled guilty, the presiding judge, Leon M. Bazile, gave them a choice, leave Virginia for 25 years or go to prison. They left and would spend the next nine years in exile.
The case went from the Virginia Caroline county circuit court, all the way to the US supreme court in Washington. The Lovings did not attend the hearings in Washington, but Cohen conveyed a message from Richard: ‘Mr Cohen, tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.’ The Supreme Court overturned the Lovings’ convictions in a unanimous decision in June 1967, ruling that the ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional and in violation of the 14th Amendment
Photograph: © Grey Villet, 1965 The couple sued for the right to live together and be recognized as husband and wife. Their case made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1967, who eventually ruled in the Loving’s favor. June 12, 1967, marks the day that all anti-miscegenation laws were struck down, meaning interracial couples could be recognized in matrimony.
In 1964, frustrated that they could not visit their families in Virginia together, Mildred wrote to attorney general Robert F Kennedy who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU assigned volunteer attorneys Bernard S Cohen and Philip J Hirschkop to the Lovings, pictured together in their office discussing the case Photograph: © Grey Villet, 1965
With this landmark decision, the Loving couple was able to move back to Virginia with their three children. The Loving case became a historic example of marriage equality in Virginia and across the country.