Every year on June 12, interracial couples celebrate Loving Day
across the US of A. It is called Loving Day in commemoration of a case brought before the Supreme Court entitled Loving v. Virginia
by Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and a white man, who wanted to live in their home state of Virginia.
Mildred Jeter was born and raised in Caroline County, Virginia. The law in Virginia that banned interracial marriage was a long-standing one. In fact, it was based on a statute that dates back to 1691 and it outlawed marriage between whites and nonwhites.
In 1878, penalties were added to the law: five years in prison and a clause that said that anyone who tried to evade the law by marrying out of state but then came back to Virginia, would be treated the same as those who had actually married inside state lines.
In 1958, Mildred and Richard Loving drove to Washington, D.C. and got married. They came back to Caroline County, and moved in with Richard's parents.
Word of their marriage trickled back to the Commonwealth's attorney (described as the equivalent to today's district attorney) who went to court to obtain arrest warrants for the couple and then sent in the troops. On a July night, at 2 in the morning, the Loving's were startled to wake up and find the sheriff and his deputies surrounding their bed. They shone flashlights into their faces and demanded to know who Mildred Loving was.
Richard replied that Mildred Loving was his wife and after he showed their marriage certificate to the sheriff, all Richard heard in reply was: "That's no good here.
The Loving's were arrested, taken to jail, indicted by a county grand jury and eventually plead guilty to violating Virginia's Racial Integrity Act. They were sentenced to a year in jail, but Judge Leon Bazile suspended the sentence for 25 years with one condition ... that the couple leave the state and not come back together for that 25 year time period.
In 1958 laws that supported segregation were falling but more than half of the states across the nation still had anti-miscegenation laws on their books. Peter Wallenstein, a professor of history at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University said
This was the last piece, and it was a big piece in the whole structure of Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Act of '64 and the Voting Rights of '65 had cleared most of that, but this one pillar stood tall.
The Loving's moved to Washington, DC but Mildred desperately missed her family, her friends and she missed living the rural life style. So, in 1963, she wrote to Robert F. Kennedy who was the Attorney General at the time. The Justice Department then sent the couple to the American Civil Liberties Union, and Bernard Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop took on their case. Cohen told the Chicago Tribune in 1992 that:
I definitely thought there was something serendipitous about the fact that the case would be called Loving vs. the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The case wound it's way through the various court systems, and finally in 1967 the Supreme Court ruled by a unanimous margin of 9 to 0 that Virginia's laws were aimed at white supremacy, were unconstitutional and that they violated the 14th Amendment. In one fell swoop, they struck down laws nationwide that banned interracial marriages.
In the opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that marriage is
one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.
To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as racial classification embodied in these statutes . . . is surely to deprive all the state's citizens of liberty without due process of law.
Richard Loving was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in 1975 and Mildred Loving (who never remarried) died on May 2, 2008 at the age of 68.