Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple involved in the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled anti-interracial marriage laws are unconstitutional
On a quiet July night in 1958 Richard and Mildred Loving were abruptly awoken as police officers entered their home. Walking up to the couple as they lie in bed a police officer shined a flashlight in their direction and began to question them.
“They asked Richard, who was that woman he was sleeping with, and I said, ‘I’m his wife.’ And the sheriff said, ‘Not here you’re not,’”
At the time Virginia’s legal system followed the Racial Integrity Act which made marriage between whites and “coloreds” illegal and for being in violation of this law Richard and Mildred were thrown in jail. Upon their release local law enforcement made it clear to the couple that they would not turn a blind eye to their crime. If they wanted to live together as husband and wife they could not do so in the state of Virginia, and if they were caught together again, they would immediately be brought back to jail. However, Richard and Mildred did not falter for a moment- they were determined to be together.
Left with no other options the Lovings were forced to relocate to Washington DC, leaving behind the only home they had ever known. Life in the city was hard on them, especially Mildred who greatly missed her family and longed for the open space of the countryside where she had grown up. She felt that her and her children were caged in a place that would never truly be a home to them. Then one day her young son Donald was hit by a car and Mildred decided enough was enough. She wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to ask for assistance. Although he was not able to help them, he referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU agreed to take the case and so began Loving v. Virginia.
“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.”
Judge Leon Bazile
When the ACLU challenged the original conviction in Virginia judge Leon Bazile upheld the verdict. The judge was a firmly against miscegenation of any kind, believing that such unions went against God’s will. However, the case was not abandoned and instead worked its way up to the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately it was concluded that the anti-miscegenation laws were a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, specifically its Equal Protection Clause. So, on June 12, 1967 the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Lovings:
Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state. These convictions must be reversed. It is so ordered.
United States Supreme Court June 12, 1967
That day was not a just a victory for Lovings, but for other couples like them across the nation as well. From that day onward states could no longer enforce any anti-miscegenation laws. Interracial couples were now free to marry and no longer had to fear being jailed for the “crime” of loving someone of a different race.