Interracial couple – 17-year-old Mildred Jeter, who was black, and her childhood sweetheart, 23-year-old white construction worker, Richard Loving – against Virginia’s “miscegenation” laws banning marriage between blacks and whites. After marrying in Washington, D.C. and returning to their home state in 1958, the couple was charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed. According to the judge in the case, Leon M. Bazile, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Judge Bazile sentenced the Lovings to a year in prison, to be suspended if the couple agreed to leave the state for the next 25 years.
The couple was referred to the ACLU, which represented them in the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967). The Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
The Court also held that the Virginia law violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. “Under our Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”
Richard Perry Loving: October 1933 in Central Point, Caroline County, Virginia.
Mildred Dolores Jeter: Abt. 1939 in Central Point, Caroline County, Virginia.
How Mildred and Richard Met:
Richard first met Mildred when he was 17 years old and she was 11 years old. As she grew older, their friendship blossomed into romance.
When Mildred was 18 and Richard was 24 when they were married on June 2, 1958 in Washington, D.C.
Five weeks after their wedding, they were awakened at 2 a.m. by police and arrested for being married to one another. During their time in jail, Mildred and Richard were housed on separate floors.
On January 6, 1959, after pleading guilty to the charge against them, they were sentenced to one year in jail. The sentence was suspended for 25 years “on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years.”
Loving vs. Virginia Court Case:
After facing housing discrimination in Washington, D.C., and being unhappy about not living close to their families, Mildred wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy forwarded the letter to the American Civil Liberties Union and attorney Bernard S. Cohen took their case. After many setbacks throughout a nine-year period, their case was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court which in 1967 decided unanimously in their favor
Mildred and Richard had three children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
- Donald Loving: Donald died in 2000.
- Peggy Loving.
- Sidney Loving
Richard: June 29, 1975 after their car was hit by a drunken driver. Richard was 41 when he died. Richard is buried in Central Point, Virginia.
Mildred: May 2, 2008 at her home in Central Point, Virginia. Mildred died of pneumonia at the age of 68.
Quotes About the Marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving:
Mildred’s “Loving for All” statement, 6/12/07: “I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
Mildred about Richard: “He used to take care of me. He was my support, he was my rock.”
Richard about the Supreme Court decision: “For the first time, I could put my arm around [Mildred] and publicly call her my wife.”
Richard to their attorney: “Mr. Cohen, tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
Bernard Cohen, attorney: “They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom.”
Chief Justice Earl Warren, June 12, 1967: “… The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival … Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
In popular culture
In the United States, June 12, the date of the decision, has become known as Loving Day, an annual unofficial celebration of interracial marriages. In 2014, Mildred Loving was honored as one of the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Women in History”.
The story of the Lovings became the basis of several films:
- The first, Mr. & Mrs. Loving (1996), was written and directed by Richard Friedenberg and starred Lela Rochon, Timothy Hutton, and Ruby Dee. According to Mildred Loving, “not much of it was very true. The only part of it right was I had three children.”
- The second film, Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story, premiered on HBO in February 2012 and won a Peabody Award that year.
- A third film, Loving, was released in 2016, directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as the Lovings. The film is based on Buirski’s documentary.
A 2015 novel by the French journalist Gilles Biassette, L’amour des Loving (“The Love of the Lovings”, recounts the life of the Lovings and their case