On July 11, 1958, Mildred and Richard Loving were woken from their bed at 2 a.m. by the police, who entered unlawfully, and were arrested by the local sheriff. Their crime: the interracial couple had married five weeks prior, which was illegal in the state. More than 60 years later, their union and subsequent Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case continue to be “one of the most significant legal decisions of the civil rights era” (History).
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• Listen to audio from the Loving v. Virginia court case on NPR.
What does Loving Day represent?
On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled in favor of Loving v. Virginia for interracial marriages. The unanimous decision upheld that distinctions drawn based on race were not constitutional.
Who are the Lovings?
Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were a couple from Virginia. Richard, who identified as white, and Mildred, a woman of mixed African American and Native American ancestry, were longtime friends who had fallen in love. They married in 1958 in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriage was legal, and then returned home to Virginia, where it was illegal. Richard and Mildred were indicted on charges of violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, which deemed interracial marriages a felony. The court case ruled that they be exiled from Virginia for 25 years. Mildred Loving wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy asking for help. Kennedy referred the Lovings to the ACLU, which agreed to take their case. Read more >
U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the Lovings on June 12, 1967, and as a result, 16 states were forced to overturn their anti-miscegenation laws, too. Alabama was the last state to abolish its law in 2000 (Vox).
What did this conversation say about race?
This case was undoubtedly a monumental win for civil rights, mainly because there’s so much ugliness hiding in the details of the court case. If you read the court case in full, you can review what the couple and all interracial marriages were up against. The state of Virginia’s rules against interracial marriages, outlined in the Racial Integrity Act and echoed by many other states until this ruling, was meant “to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,” and to prevent “the corruption of blood,” “a mongrel breed of citizens,” and “the obliteration of racial pride, obviously an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy.”
The state created a defense that compared anti-miscegenation statutes to the right to prohibit incest, polygamy, and underage marriage. They defended that children of interracial marriages would be victims, ineligible to possess land rights, and should not have to suffer from their parents’ decision to wed. You can listen to audio from this court case on NPR.
“We fail to see how any reasonable man can but conclude that these laws are slavery laws were incepted to keep slaves in their place, were prolonged to keep the slaves in their place, and in truth, the Virginia law still view the Negro race as a slave race, that these are the most odious laws to come before the court. They robbed the Negro race of its dignity and only a decision which will reach the full body of these laws in the State of Virginia will change that” (NPR).
• Mildred and Richard Loving were an interracial couple who were arrested because of their marriage.
• The Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia declared state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States unconstitutional.
• The decision resulted in 16 states overturning their anti-miscegenation laws.