A man and woman fall in love, and decide they want to marry. Sounds like an everyday occurrence, no? No. Not if the man was white and the woman black in 1958 Virginia. Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter knew this, so they travelled to Washington D.C., to avoid the anti-miscegenation law in their home state that prohibited a person classified as “white” from marrying someone classified as “colored.”
This anti-miscegnation laws had been in effect since Virginia was a colony, and had never been challenged.
After their marriage, the newlyweds returned home to their small town of Central Point, Virginia without fanfare to start a family. But acting on an anonymous tip, police raided the Loving home one night and found them (not surprisingly) asleep together in the same bed. Mildred presented the officers with their valid marriage certificate, and that was taken into evidence as proof of the Loving’s illicit act.
Richard and Mildred were charged with the crime of cohabiting as a married interracial couple, a felony punishable by a prison sentence of one to five years.
On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty, and sentenced to one year in prison. The judge agreed to suspend their prison sentence for 25 years if they moved to another state. Mildred and Richard agreed and moved to Washington D.C.
But after five years of frustration about not being able to travel back home to see their families in Virginia, Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy for assistance. He in turn referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union, who filed a motion in 1964 to have the case vacated based on the 14th amendment (citizenship rights, and equal protection under the law).
However, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the anti-miscegnation law—that people of different races should not, must not be allowed to marry, and to do so would be a crime.
Thankfully, the Lovings refused to accept this judgment and filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States. And on June 12, 1967 love won. In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court overturned the Lovings’ conviction, and dismissed the Commonwealth of Virginia’s argument. Further, the Court concluded that anti-miscegnation laws were inherently racist.
The ruling forced seventeen states (all the former slave states plus Oklahoma) to remove the prohibition against interracial marriage.
Richard and Mildred would go on to have three children, and live peacefully in Virginia until 1975 when Richard was killed by a drunk driver. Mildred never remarried, and died in 2008.
In the United States, June 12th, the day of the Supreme Court’s ruling, has come to be celebrated as Loving Day…the day love won.
Mildred and Richard Loving are heroes you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.