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.
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.
gray: no anti-miscegenation laws passed
green: 1780 to 1887
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.)
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.
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.
While you’re waiting for “Loving” to come to a theater near you, please enjoy this trailer: