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Mildred Loving, Fought Interracial Marriage Ban, Dies at 68
MAY 6, 2008 TAGS:
June 12 is known by many interracial married couples as “Loving Day,” the anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law in Loving v. Virginia, a ruling that led to the dismantling of one of the last, and most odious, legal justifications for segregation around the country. Mildred Loving, a black woman whose marriage to a white man was the cause of this landmark decision, said in an interview last year on the 40th anniversary of the case, “Its just another day. Sometimes I forget.” Loving died on May 2. She was 68.
Mildred’s insouciance about the significance of her marriage and her legal action was typical of her and her husband’s motives in bringing suit. They weren’t activists or progressives trying to change the world, they were just two young sweethearts trying to make it honest.
She was a skinny girl nicknamed ‘Bean’ and he was a construction worker, named Richard. They met in Central Point, a Richmond suburb that had a history of friendly racial relations. In 1958, when Mildred found out she was pregnant, they drove up to DC and got married. After they settled back in Central Point, the Caroline County Sheriff burst through their doors at 2 AM one morning and arrested them for violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, which did not recognize out-of-state interracial marriages.
They pled guilty, paid a fine and were banned from the state for twenty-five years. The Caroline County Circuit Judge, Leon M. Bazile, said famously that if God had meant the races to intermix and marry, He wouldn’t have placed them on separate continents.
After living in DC for five years, removed from their community and unable to see their families in Virginia, Mildred wrote a letter to the Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy who referred her to the A.C.L.U.
Two young lawyers took their case, asking Judge Bazile to set aside his original verdict. He refused and the State Supreme Court affirmed the decision. The United States Supreme Court granted review of the case based upon whether the anti-miscegenation law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court decided that it did.
On June 12, 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for a unanimous court, “There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. . . . There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.”
At the time there were 16 states with similar statutes against interracial marriage. These were, according to Loving’s lawyer, Bernard S. Cohen, “the last on-the-books manifestation of slavery in America.” They were struck down. Today, there are 4.3 million interracial couples in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.
Richard Loving died in 1975 after being hit by a drunk driver. Mildred was also in the car and lost an eye in the accident. Mildred’s life continued to be quiet and at times somewhat destitute, living in the house that Richard built for the family in 1958.
Mildred died in Central Point, the town from which they were banished after their arrest, the town where Mildred and Richard fell in love. Their struggle had never been about rooting out the legal vestiges of racism and slavery, but about their love. As she said in a 1966 interview with Life magazine, “we are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”
Obit from the New York Times
Obit from the Washington Post
LISTEN to Oral arguments in Loving v. Virginia
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