I recently finished watching Loving, the 2016 film based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving. The Lovings were an interracial couple from Central Point, Virginia; Richard, a white man, fell in love with Mildred, a woman of color. Together they traveled to Washington, D.C. to get married, knowing that due to the anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia at the time, their home state would forbid their union. A month after they’d returned home as a newly-wedded couple, the events leading up to the landmark decision Loving v. Virginia began.
Loving showcased the lives of the Lovings spectacularly, and much of what I watched in the movie was confirmed by the research I’ve done on their story.
The first domino fell when, after receiving an anonymous tip (to this day, it’s unknown who went behind the Lovings’ backs to report them to the commonwealth attorney), Sheriff Garnett Brooks invaded their home at 2 a.m. on July 11, 1958 to arrest them.
The Associated Press interviewed the Sheriff back in 2008 for their interview with Ms. Loving. This quote below sums up his staunch dismissal of the sheer racism behind their arrest.
‘Now 84, then-Sheriff Garnett Brooks vividly recalls bursting into the Lovings’ home at 2 a.m., rousing the couple out of their sleep and hauling them off to face the law. Word of their marriage — nobody’s sure who complained — had reached the commonwealth’s attorney.
“He told me to go and check on them and if they are (married), arrest them,” said Brooks, who insists the case wasn’t about race but about illegal cohabitation. “I told him I’d be glad to do it.”’
At that time, the Lovings’ were told that their marriage license was invalid, as it was still in violation of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. After spending a brief amount of time in jail, they opted to plead guilty to the charges against them on January 6, 1959. Officially, as the articles I’ve read detail, their union in the eyes of Virginia violated the so-called “peace and dignity of the Commonwealth”. As a condition to avoid more jail time, Richard and Mildred were ordered to leave the state, unable to return together for 25 years.
Can you imagine any level of government putting you and your spouse in exile from your city and families for 25 years? Nowadays, this is seen as something ludicrous and most assuredly racist. But back then, when laws banning interracial marriages were still in place, this was a real thing made justifiable.
As history knows, Richard and Mildred Loving fought hard to remove their sentence. Eventually, their case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It was there that all 9 Supreme Court Justices voted in favor of the Lovings, striking down not only Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, but also the similar laws of other states across the nation. The victory for interracial love in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 secured the right to marriage for all, regardless of their ethnic background.
Although the laws prohibiting interracial marriage were rendered null by the Supreme Court ruling, it would take decades before the last state laws were voted out of existence. I found out through an old CNN article that Alabama was the last state in America to remove its ban on interracial marriage. It wasn’t until 2000 that Alabama finally annulled language in the state’s constitution forbidding marriages between white and black citizens.
The Lovings’ legacy would eventually help lay the foundation for same-sex marriage to be fully legalized. Before she passed away in 2008, Ms. Loving spoke words of deep support for the pro-gay marriage cause in California at the time. Read this quote from The Atlantic.
“I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
The legacy of Richard and Mildred Loving lives on. In a 2017 article written by Newsweek, statistics were provided proving that both the rates of interracial marriages and societal approval thereof have increased proportionately since the 1967 ruling. As time marches on, these rates will climb ever higher, no matter how many people in America hold reservations regarding interracial love. Just as the love between Richard and Mildred endured the years of opposition they faced together, so to will the love of others following in their footsteps flourish.
Fun fact: June 12, the day of the Supreme Court ruling for Loving v. Virginia, is unofficially known as “Loving Day” in their honor.
- The History article on Loving v. Virginia
- The Biography article on Richard and Mildred
- Encyclopedia Virginia‘s transcription of Judge Leon M. Bazile’s (the Judge who refused to overturn the Lovings’ sentence) court opinion
- Biblical evidence of interracial marriages (such as Joseph with Asenath in Genesis) compiled into an article by Harvard’s Icthus
- A YouTube clip of a forum directed by Benjamin Hirschkop, one of the two attorneys who helped bring the Lovings’ case before the Supreme Court