Mildred Jeter Loving passed away yesterday at the age of 68. I didn’t know her or her late husband Richard Loving who passed away in 1975. But Winnie and I are benefactors of their legacy, especially now that we are living in Virginia.
It is because of these two extraordinary people that on June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court decided they could be legally married anywhere in these United States. You see, Ms. Loving was a woman of African and Rappahannock Native American descent, and her husband was Caucasian. When they married in June 1958 and settled in Virginia, their marriage was legally termed “miscegenation” and in this state was a felony punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years.
I want to write about these two people, as I’ve thought a lot about them since we’ve first settled here in Virginia. Although I sort of knew about this case for years, it wasn’t until a DMV official declared Winnie’s and my Chinese marriage as “invalid in Virginia” that really brought this case into perspective.
From the Wikipedia, a brief over view of their story:
They were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia, having left Virginia to evade the Racial Integrity Act, a state law banning marriages between any white person and a black person (there was no law banning marriage with other ethnicities as they were not seen to represent a significant enough population to be a problem). Upon their return to Caroline County, Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban. They were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which defined “miscegenation” as a felony punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years. On 6 January 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s 18th-century interpretation of race, proclaimed that:
“ 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. ”Wikipedia Entry: Loving V Virginia
The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, and on November 6, 1963 they filed a motion in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violated statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment. This set in motion a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the Supreme Court. On October 28, 1964, after their motion still had not been decided, the Lovings began a class action suit in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. On January 22, 1965, the three-judge district court decided to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Soon to be Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice, Harry L. Carrico wrote an opinion for the court upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the criminal convictions.
These two people then took their case to the US Supreme Court. On June 12, 1967, nine years after their marriage, The Supreme Court overturned their convictions in a unanimous decision. The Supreme Court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy. At the time of this decision there were some 24 states with similar “miscegenation” laws in effect. In some states, particularly on the West coast, “miscegenation” included marriages between Asian and Caucasian people. You know, the kind of marriage I’ve had twice (my ex- is Filipina).
Although the court decision made it impossible for any state to continue enforcing their racist laws, the last state to officially remove the law from their books was Alabama in 2000.
Fast forward to November 2006.
As I chronicled in “The DMV Wars” in this website, Winnie was treated with complete hostility while attempting to gain her Virginia’s driver license after settling here in Virginia. As part of the hostilities DMV officials twice stated our marriage license, completely conforming to USCIS requirements as a legal US document, was invalid in Virginia as proof of marriage. The Governor of Virginia, and in turn the State DMV Commissioner, apparently thought different; they solved the problem once I wrote them pleasant letters about this. But being told our marriage was not recognized by a state official, and seeing Winnie denied something as basic as a state identification for that reason, shook me.
I actually referenced this case, Loving ET UX. v. Virginia, to Governor Kaine in my first letter to him about the local DMV. The DMV incidents caused me to read up on the case and really think about what the Loving family must have gone through for the first nine years of their marriage, and then what they went through all the years after.
Mildred was only 18 at the time of their marriage. The stayed married all their lives. Richard Loving was killing by a drunk driver in 1975. Yesterday, Mildred joined him, passing on at the age of 68.
In reading about her death, I stumbled across an open letter Mildred had written this past June 12, 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling. It is a beautiful letter, and the publishers have urged wide dissemination. So, in honor of a very brave couple, who just within my lifetime forced our country to allow anyone to marry despite the color of their skin, I will republish Mildred’s letter:
Loving for All
By Mildred Loving*
Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,
The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement
When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.
We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.
When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?
Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “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.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.
We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.
Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”
My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.
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.Positive Liberty
So to Richard and Mildred, Thank You for taking a stand. May you both rest in peace.
Note: There is a beautiful diary honoring Mildred Loving at the Raising Kaine Blog with additional background information and local perspective.
A Deeply Personal Decision : My thoughts on same-sex marriage in light of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
It Could Have Been Anybody : My thoughts on the Michael Brown murder in Ferguson, Missouri.
Changing the Tone of Discussion : My letters to the editor seemed to moderate the worst of our local Conservative columnists.