Happy Loving Day!

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Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving
(see the bottom of this post for a slideshow of other photos)

While this blog tends to focus on me and my wedding, sometimes I think other marriages should get a mention. Today is one of those times because today is Loving Day.

June 12, 1967, 45 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on inter-racial marriages was indeed unconstitutional. And it all started with Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving. in June 1958 Mildred, an African-American woman, and Richard, a white man, got married in Washington, D.C. where it was legal to do so. Later, they decided to return to their home state of Virginia, and their county of Caroline, where miscegenation laws were still on the books. They were arrested and charged with race mixing essentially. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years.

The Lovings moved back to Washington, D.C., but filed a motion in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statutes which they had violated were repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment which says that no state may create a law that denies every person equal treatment under the law. They claimed that the ban on inter-racial marriage did just that.

According to Chief Justice Earl Warren, who eventually delivered the SCOTUS opinion,

The Equal Protection Clause requires the consideration of whether the classifications drawn by any statute constitute an arbitrary and invidious discrimination. The clear and central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate all official state sources of invidious racial discrimination in the States.

Warren continues,

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. We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. 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.

In the end, the convictions were reversed and the ban against interracial marriage was struck down.

According to a 2008 opinion piece in the New York Times, the Lovings didn’t go looking for a fight, it simply came to their door when they refused to bend to the prevailing theme of the times.

…this struggle was not about changing the world. It was about fighting for the right to be married to one another and then returning to the community that was their home.

Why it came to them is a matter of curiosity however. According to the opinion piece, because of the history of slavery where white slave owners would father children by black slave women, many of the residents in 20th century Central Point, the city in Caroline County, Va, where the Lovings lived, were light skinned enough that outside of the city, where folks didn’t know them, they could “pass” as white. The Central Point community made it a special point to protect those residents who married into white families outside of the county.

According to the Times piece,

By the time that Richard and Mildred had begun to date in the 1950s, they had lived their whole lives in a community that had made an art form of evading Jim Crow restrictions on relationships.

For some reason, the state took a special interest in the Lovings.

It is possible that someone who held a grudge against the couple complained to the sheriff. Such a complaint could have come from one of the local white men who had taken a black lover and used the law as an excuse not to marry.

Regardless, the couple was arrested, and the rest as they say is history. Except that it’s not.

While not illegal any more, interracial marriage is still relatively rare.

According to an NPR post in 2007, sociologists estimate that 7 percent of the nation’s 59 million marriages are mixed-race couplings. The story interviewed Anna Blazer, who is white, and Bryan Walker, who is African-American, who lived in Caroline County when the piece was published. According to Blazer, the couple endured sneers, sideways glances and more from strangers.

Just a couple of months ago… Bryan got beat up in the Wal-Mart parking lot because he was with me and my sister, and these white men came up to him and they were yelling. The guy ripped off his shirt. He had racial slurs all over him…and they just started going at it.

While Blazer said that although their relationship is harder than it needs to be sometimes because of prejudice and bigotry, she wouldn’t change anything.

I think my life would be a whole lot easier if I was with a white man. And Bryan feels the same way, but he loves me. He really does. And we are meant to be together.

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