“Loving,” the Movie, and the Crime of Interracial Love.

 wedding, cake, Eugene and Nicki Chen, June 17, 1967

I had no idea.

In June of 1967, Eugene and I were putting the finishing touches on our wedding plans.

At the same time, the United States Supreme Court was preparing to release its decision in the case of Loving v Virginia, a case that would decide whether our marriage would be legal in Virginia and throughout the country.

What?

I understood that our marriage would be unusual, but it never crossed my mind that it might be illegal. And not just in the South. Six days before our wedding, interracial marriage was illegal in sixteen states. If, after getting married, we’d decided to move to Tennessee or Texas or any one of fourteen other states, we would have been criminals.

us_miscegenation-svg-wikimedia-commons-by-certesUS states by date of repeal of anti-miscegenation laws:

gray: no anti-miscegenation laws passed

green: 1780 to 1887

yellow: 1948-1967

red: after 1967

Then, five days before our wedding, the Supreme Court made interracial marriage legal and anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Their reason: The laws forbidding interracial marriage had been enacted for the purpose of perpetuating white supremacy. (The legal reasoning is more complex.)

wedding, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church 001Eugene and I didn’t know it at the time, but by the date of our wedding on Jun 17, we were back on the right side of the law.

The Supreme Court decision wasn’t the end of it, though. Laws against interracial marriage remained on the books in sixteen states. In Alabama, local judges continued to enforce them until 1970, and they didn’t get around to striking them from their books until 2000 when a citizen’s initiative forced them to do it.

The story of Richard Loving’s and Mildred Jeter’s fight for interracial justice.

mildred_jeter_and_richard_lovingIt was just a coincidence (a happy coincidence) that one of the plaintiffs in the case of Loving v Virginia was named Loving, Richard Loving.

He and his wife, Mildred Jeter, went to separate segregated schools. But they’d been friends since he was 17 and she was 11. By the time Mildred was 18, they were ready to get married and raise a family. But Richard was a white man and she, a black woman. They couldn’t get married in Virginia.

So they left their home and drove to Washington, DC to be legally wed.

The trouble began five weeks later after they’d returned to Virginia. One night while they were sleeping, the county sheriff and two deputies broke into their bedroom, beamed flashlights into their eyes, and arrested and jailed them for unlawful co-habitation.

The judge sentenced them to a year in jail, but in a plea bargain he agreed to a suspended sentence if they would agree to leave the state and never return together for the next 25 years.

So they made a home for themselves in Washington, DC and raised three children there, taking separate trips back to Virginia to visit friends and family. They never could get used to city living, though.

In 1963, after five years in Washington, DC, Mildred wanted to move back home, and she contacted Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, who referred her to the ACLU. The case worked its way through the lower courts all the way up to the US Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the case was decided in their favor by a unanimous verdict. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion.

“Loving,” the movie.

The movie about their lives came out on November 4, but only in selected cities. I’m waiting for it to be more widely available. “Loving” is not the first movie to tell the story of the Lovings, but it promises to be the best. It received a standing ovation at Canne, and it’s already named as an Oscar contender.

Joel Edgerton plays Richard and Ruth Negga plays Mildred.

While you’re waiting for “Loving” to come to a theater near you, please enjoy this trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRXuCY7tRgk

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
Culture, interracial marriage , , , , , , , , ,

25 comments


  1. What a powerful post! Thank you for this, Nicki. How sad that when you married, your marriage was considered illegal in some states. I’m glad that law was overturned.

    I didn’t know about this movie! I’d like to see it!

    • We always feel so secure with the current situation we live under, as though it’s always been this way and always will. History reminds us of the little blip that the present time represents.

  2. Great post, Nicki! I love your wedding picture. Thanks for the timely chart showing how much of our population grew up with these racist laws, too.

    • Thanks, Autumn. And thank you for the Facebook shares.

      The map may have overstated the difficulty of intermarriage in all those states. There are always some laws on the books that can be ignored–until they come after you. I was surprised to see that only .4% of marriages in the country were interracial in 1960.

  3. Most people associate interracial marriage to black and white but it was far more reaching than that. Young people today would have a hard time believing that this happened in the not too distant past as (at least in our area) there is a lot of interracial marriages of all sorts. Great post and well written (as always).

    • Writing this, I came upon a chart that showed the specific types of interracial marriages each state objected to. For most of them it was whites marrying blacks or blacks and Native Americans, but there were other races specified in various states. Arizona, for example, outlawed marriages between whites and blacks, Asians, Filipinos, and East Indians. In Idaho it was blacks, Native Americans, and Asians. Oregon even included Hawaiians. Their weren’t any laws against marrying outside your race as long as neither of you are white. The goal was (and still is for some people) racial purity for whites. You’d think the popularity of DNA testing and the sometimes surprising results would give them pause.

  4. Incredible how much hate and fear there is and it’s not going away sadly

  5. Wonderful post, Nicki. I added Loving to our Netflix queue. And I LOVE your wedding photo and cake. Here’s to the Human Race.

  6. What a fascinating post Nicki. I’m glad you and your husband were on the right side of history but it’s so sad and disturbing that this is the very recent history Amercan society is evolving from. And it casts a very long shadow.

    • It is disturbing, Clare, especially in light of recent events. I don’t think we’ll go back to having a ban on interracial marriage, but those racist and xenophobic attitudes seem to be rising up again.

      And good luck on your new business idea.

  7. And so it was happily every after for the Lovings. A real life fairy tale right there. It must have been nerve wracking for you and Eugene prior to getting married. I’m guessing it would have been a very different life the two of you would have led had the law on interracial marriages did not rule in your favour. Maybe you would have found a kick out of it, but I suppose having to watch your back would be hard. Then again, interracial couples sometimes do have it harder or at the very least more interesting, even today.

    Moral of the story is, love conquers all 🙂

    • The Lovings did live happily ever after, but their ever-after didn’t last as long as they would have hoped. Eight years after the decision, Richard Loving was killed by a drunk driver. A reminder of the uncertainty of the future and an admonition to live life to the full in the present.

      My husband and I were never considering moving to one of the states where interracial marriage was illegal, so, even without the Supreme Court decision, those laws wouldn’t have effected us. We were lucky not to have any problems with being an interracial couple, even in my hometown where Eugene was the only Asian until a Chinese doctor went to work at the mental hospital on the edge of town. He also had a white wife.

      • Sad to hear about the Lovings. But their love sounded very strong and I am sure everyone who knew them would agree. They look so happy in the photo that you shared.

        It is interesting to hear of Eugene and you as an interracial couple back in the day. It must have been very, very cool 🙂

        • Whenever you marry or even associate with someone from a different background, it broadens your understanding of the world and of the people in it. So yes, it was cool to be married to Eugene.

  8. Maureen Rogers

    Great article Nicki. I can’t wait to see the movie!

  9. I just finished reading Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s memoire. In it she writes about the Loving Case. This post further enlightened me about the situation and its effects on people like you. Nicely done.

    • One of my daughters, a lawyer, is a big admirer of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. As luck would have it, Justice Ginsberg’s new book came out in October, just before my daughter’s birthday, so I snapped it up before anyone else could buy it for her.

      Your recent post, Dirty Laundry, is an excellent reminder of the employment discrimination many women have faced over the years. Now we have to hope and pray that the progress we’ve made over the past decades won’t be erased.

      • The three women on the Supreme Court will be sorely tested. It must be a terrible time for them now. They,more than any other women, know what vulnerable people suffer to gain equal treatment under the law.And now the ranks of the vulnerable have grown and those three women’s voices may be muted for the rest of their terms. I really don’t think many of our young women have even taken this into account when they chose not to vote. I wish more of their mothers had bought them that book.

        • I’m crossing my fingers that all three of them stay healthy. If none of the justices dies or retires for the next four years, we should be all right. But every one of us, man or woman, stands to lose in a multitude of ways under a President Trump. We need to remain vigilant.

  10. Doreen Pereira

    I will wait to see the movie too. Such a touching story.

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