On June 12, 1967, in the United States Supreme Court, the case of Loving v. Virginia produced a landmark decision to strike down laws in sixteen states prohibiting interracial marriage. Supporters of multicultural unions call this day “Loving Day,” and Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
WTVR reported that the love story of Richard and Mildred Loving eventually became an award-winning film of two people who fell in love, got married, and were then jailed – simply because she was black, he was white, and their union was against the law. The movie was titled Loving, depicting how the young couple faced both ostracism and threats of violence.
It was in the 1950s in Caroline County that Richard and Mildred Loving’s story began, and 50 years after their landmark challenge shattered the laws against interracial marriage in the United States, some interracial couples still speak of facing disapproval, discrimination, and often outright hostility from fellow Americans.
Richard and Mildred received a marriage license in Washington DC, after which time they returned home to Central Point in Virginia. Weeks later they were arrested by police and thrown in jail for breaking the law.
The couple were later banished from Virginia. He was a white man, and she described herself as “part negro-part Indian,” and it was their interracial marriage which ultimately led to a legal battle against Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law. Eventually, they went to court to challenge the state’s ban against miscegenation, and their case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
ABC News reported that, as the United States Supreme Court was wrapping up the final orders for the term, they came upon the case of Richard and Mildred Loving. They were an interracial couple who had been sentenced to one year in jail for violating Virginia’s ban on marriage between people of different races.
The question the court was faced with was this: Did Virginia’s law violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? And the unanimous conclusion of the justices was – yes, it does: not only in Virginia, but in 15 other states as well.
Philip Hirschkop was one of the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers who argued the Lovings’ case before the Supreme Court, and he referred to the 1950s as a “dangerous period,” one of “tough, difficult times.”
“You didn’t want publicity for them, still living in the South. President Kennedy was assassinated. Medgar Evers was assassinated. The girls were killed in the church in Alabama.”
Then, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings, striking down laws which banned mixed-race marriages in Virginia and 15 other states. In his statement, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that marriage is a freedom that belongs to the individual, not the State.
“The freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”
Philip Hirschkop noted that, while the decision “right the wrong,” it didn’t take away from the “horrible years” the couple spent living in fear.
Ken Tanabe, an educator, animator, and art director in New York, is the founder of the Loving Day website, and this celebration is very important to him.
“The Lovings’ story and case are important to me because my father is from Japan, my mother is from Belgium, and I was born in the United States. Without the Lovings, I may never have been born. I’m humbled by their struggle and grateful for their perseverance.”
According to the website, dozens of Loving Day events will be held around the world, from within the United States to Paris and Tokyo.
Tanabe added that, although the Loving decision was made 50 years ago, it remains as relevant as ever. In fact, a Gallup poll revealed the shocking truth that 11 percent of those in the United States still disapprove of interracial marriage.
“As Loving Day celebrations spread across cities in the U.S. and around the world, so does a more positive and nuanced conversation about who we are.”
Richard Loving passed away in 1975 and Mildred Loving died in 2008. Although they’re not here today to see the impact of their brave fight for a basic right, the Pew Research Center states that one in six newlyweds today is intermarried.
Ana Edwards chairs the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Project, which is devoted to civil rights, and she shared her family’s personal story. Her parents – a while woman and black man – married in 1960 at 22-years-old and 23-years-old respectively.
Calling the previous law “obscene and absurd,” Edwards noted that her parents must have had a “tightness in the belly” knowing that their marriage was one that society was not fully ready to accept.
In Philadelphia, Farrah Parkes and Brad Linder, another interracial couple, are the creators of The Loving Project. They produce twice-weekly podcasts chronicling the everyday lives of interracial couples.
The Loving’s case holds great significance for Parkes because, without their case, she may never have had the chance to be with Linder.
“For me, it’s sort of the ultimate civil rights issue because it gives me my right to be who I am. I couldn’t imagine someone telling me no.”
NPR reported that, since the Loving ruling, opinions on interracial marriages have shifted dramatically. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, adults over 65-years-old and people with a high school diploma or less education are more likely to oppose a relative marrying someone of a different race, but that overall, Americans are more open to the idea today.
The number of interracial marriages has grown sharply, and today approximately one-in-six newlyweds is married to someone of a different race.
Latino and Asian people are most likely to marry outside their own racial group, but since the 1980s there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of black and white newlyweds with spouses of different races.
[Featured Image by Tobin C/Shutterstock]