Tuesday, February 14, 2012
A Real Valentine's Day Story
Mildred Jeter was of African American and Native American descent, and Richard Loving was a white man. The couple met when she was 11 and he was 17. He was a family friend and years later they began dating. They lived in Virginia, where interracial marriage was banned by the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. When Mildred was 18 she became pregnant, and the couple decided to marry in June 1958. They traveled to Washington, DC to do so.
The Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 criminalized marriages between white and non-white persons. After the Lovings' return home to the tiny town of Central Point in Caroline County, they were arrested at night by the county sheriff, who had received an anonymous tip. The Lovings were charged under Virginia's anti-miscegenation law with "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth."
The Lovings pled guilty and were convicted by the Caroline County Circuit Court on January 6, 1959. They were sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for 25 years on the condition that they leave the state. They moved to the District of Columbia. In 1964,frustrated by their inability to travel together to visit their families in Virginia, Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU filed a motion on the Lovings' behalf to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence, on the grounds that the statutes violated the Fourteenth Amendment. This began a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the United States Supreme Court. On October 28, 1964, when their motion still had not been decided, the Lovings began a class action suit in United States district court. On January 22, 1965, the district court allowed the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry L. Carrico wrote the court's opinion upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and affirmed the criminal convictions. (He was later Chief Justice of the Virginia Court.)
The Lovings and ACLU then appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Loving v. Virginia, was decided unanimously in the Lovings' favor on June 12, 1967. The Court overturned their convictions, dismissing Virginia's argument that the law was not discriminatory because it applied equally to and provided identical penalties for both white and black persons. The Supreme Court ruled that the anti-miscegenation statute violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings returned to Virginia after the Supreme Court decision.
Mildred Loving said she considered her marriage and the court decision to be God's work. She supported everyone's right to marry whomever he or she wished. In 1965, while the case was pending, she told the Washington Evening Star, "We loved each other and got married. We are not marrying the state. The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants."
Many thanks to this remarkable couple!