Earlier this month, Mildred Loving passed away of pneumonia at the age of 68. Ms. Loving wasn’t an ordinary African American inhabitant of Virginia. She became a pioneer for interracial romance in 1950’s when she and her Caucasian husband, Richard, where arrested for living as husband and wife in Caroline County. Like many states at that time, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, also called an anti-miscegenation law, prohibited marriage between the races. As a result, the doting couple went to Washington D.C. where interracial marriage was legalized. Shortly after their return, the newlyweds were arrested and jailed for being in love and having the courage to marry. The couple pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in jail. Imprisonment could be avoided if the couple agreed to leave the state of Virginia for a minimum of 25 years. If they wish to return, they could not do so together. The basis of this judgment rested in the judge’s belief that if God had intended for the races to mix, they would not have originated on different continents.
The couple accepted the suspended sentence and moved to Washing D.C. In 1963, the Lovings began their court battle to have their sentence declared unconstitutional based on the Fourteen Amendment which prohibits the states to limit liberties without due process. The Lovings were being deprived of the right to marry, since the anti-miscegenation law only applied to other races intermarrying with Whites. The Loving case traveled all the way to the U.S Supreme Court. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a civil liberty of every free citizen and the states cannot interfere in a free man’s choice of mate. Marrying outside of his/her race is a decision that must be made from within.
I first came across the Loving case, when I was researching the history of interracial and multicultural romance. It was in salute to the 40th anniversary of the landmark case, that brought this couple’s courage to my attention. It was so ironic to see the headline, “No Loving in Virginia” and “Loving v. Virginia”, because the unexplainable act of loving was on trial. Like most who make history, Mildred and Richard Loving only wanted the freedom to love each other and build a life together. For them, it was a desire worth fighting for.
Much like everything that was once opposed, multiculturalism and inter racialism have a long history. The Loving case, while not the first was the most progressive. Court cases involving interracial marriage date back to 1883, where the state of Alabama ruled in Pace v. Alabama ruled that interracial sex was a felony and was not unconstitutional since both participants were punished equally, while extramarital sex without the interracial component was only considered a misdemeanor at the time. The debate for mixed marriages came up again in Arizona with the court case Kirby v. Kirby. In the case, Mr. Kirby was seeking an annulment because he deemed the marriage as invalid based on his wife being of negro descent. The court judged based on Mrs. Kirby’s physical appearance and reached the conclusion that she was of mixed race thereby granting Mr. Kirby his request. In support of the “one drop” law, the state of California in 1939 invalidated Mr. and Mrs. Monk’s marriage because Marie Antoinette Monk was one-eighth negro in a disputed probate case over Allen Monk’s estate. Despite taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1942, the marriage remained invalid.
It was in 1948 with the California case, Perez v. Sharp, that the ban on interracial marriage was finally viewed as being in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Shortly thereafter, various religious groups including the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic faiths announced no condemnation for interracial marriage.
Having won their battle, the Lovings went on to live the life they had planned together which included a family of three children. In 1975 Richard Loving died in a car crash. Mildred went on to witness the growth of the family her and Richard started together.
On the fortieth anniversary of the landmark case, Mildred Loving, who rarely gave interviews, had this to say:
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
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 (http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/06/mildred_loving_.html).