Loving v. Virginia

In school, my U.S. history class is very centered on white male history. I barely ever get to learn about any non-white American history, much less mixed-race American history. So, I am going to be writing about some history on this blog in order to raise awareness of the significant mixed-race history we often aren't taught about in school. Since Loving Day was a month ago, on June 12th, I wanted to write about the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage in the United States.

Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a woman of mixed Native American and African American descent, was from the town of Central Point in Caroline County, Virginia. In June 1958, they got married in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriage was legal, then returned to their home in Virginia to live together as a married couple.

But that wasn't okay in Virginia. Five weeks after the Lovings got married, they were woken up in their bed at 2:00 a.m. and arrested by the local sheriff for violating Virginia's anti-miscegenation law. Miscegenation is the marriage or interbreeding among different races, and anti-miscegenation laws have existed in the U.S. since the Colonial Era. All but nine U.S. states have had laws against miscegenation at some point. Before the Loving v. Virginia case, attempts to dispute anti-miscegenation laws in court had been unsuccessful. For example, in the 1883 case Pace v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Alabama anti-miscegenation law was constitutional because it punished both Black and white people equally. I don't understand this logic at all – why would you want to punish anyone for being with the person they love? – but that was how this country thought, and how much they were against the mixing of races. Virginia's 1924 Act to Preserve Racial Integrity made interracial marriage illegal in Virginia, and those who violated the law had to face one to five years in prison. So imagine having to go to prison for years, literally just for marrying the person you want to marry.

In 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to a year in prison. However, Judge Leon M. Bazile suspended the sentence as long as the Lovings agreed to leave Virginia and not return for 25 years. Judge Bazile stated: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." The Lovings agreed, and moved to Washington, D.C., where they lived for several years, raising their three children Sidney, Donald, and Peggy.

"God created the races...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

The Lovings longed to return to their hometown in Virginia. So in 1963, Mildred Loving wrote to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, asking for help to be able to return home. Kennedy referred the Lovings to the American Civil Liberties Union, who agreed to take their case.

The Lovings' legal battle began in November 1963. They were represented by two young ACLU lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop. They filed a motion, asking for Judge Bazile to take back their conviction and sentences. However, Bazile refused, so Cohen and Hirschkop took the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. When it failed again there, they appealed again, and the case went to the Supreme Court in April 1967.

Virginia's Assistant Attorney General Robert D. McIlwaine III defended Virginia. He argued that the state's anti-miscegenation law was similar to laws against incest and polygamy. He also argued that the law was, in fact, legal under the 14th Amendment, stating: "If the Fourteenth Amendment be deemed to apply to State anti-miscegenation statutes, then these statutes serve a legitimate, legislative objective of preventing a sociological, psychological evils which attend interracial marriages, and is a — an expression, a rational expression of a policy which Virginia has a right to adopt." He actually called interracial marriage "evil".

"...sociological, psychological evils which attend interracial marriages..." - Robert D. McIlwaine

Meanwhile, Cohen and Hirschkop made the argument that the anti-miscegenation law violated the 14th Amendment of the constitution, which guarantees all U.S. citizens due processes and equal protection under the law, regardless of race. "The language meant to include equal protection for Negroes that was at the very heart of it and that equal protection included the right to marry as any other human being had the right to marry subject to only the same limitations," Cohen argued. Hirschkop also stated that interracial marriage bans were rooted in racism and white supremacy: "We fail to see how any reasonable man can but conclude that these laws are slavery laws were incepted to keep slaves in their place, were prolonged to keep the slaves in their place, and in truth, the Virginia law still view the Negro race as a slave race, that these are the most odious laws to come before the court."

"Equal protection included the right to marry as any other human being had the right to marry..." - Bernard Cohen
"These laws are slavery laws...and in truth, the Virginia law still view the Negro race as a slave race..." - Philip Hirschkop

The Lovings didn't show up in court in person, but during the case, Richard Loving sent a message to the Supreme Court justices that said: "Tell the Court I love my wife and it is just not fair that I cannot live with her in Virginia." The Supreme Court announced their ruling in the Loving v. Virginia case on June 12, 1967. They unanimously ruled that Virginia's anti-miscegenation law violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote: "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." With this ruling, the Lovings' criminal conviction was overturned, and all laws against interracial marriage that existed in the U.S. were struck down.

"The freedom to marry...a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the state." - Chief Justice Warren

So to recap, a man and a woman wanted to marry and raise their family in their home town. It took them four years in court just to be able to do that. After the Supreme Court ruling, the Lovings could legally be together in the state of Virginia, and they were finally able to return to their home in Central Point, and raise their family. Loving v. Virginia was considered one of the most significant legal decisions in the Civil Rights Era because the Supreme Court ending bans on interracial marriage greatly weakened segregation. However, even with the Supreme Court's decision making interracial marriage legal all throughout the U.S., some states took many more years to actually alter their laws. The last state to take anti-miscegenation out of their state constitution was Alabama, who only did so in 2000. It simply baffles me that it took Alabama until the 21st century, and 33 years after Loving v. Virginia, to legalize interracial marriage.

Every year, June 12th, the anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in Loving v. Virginia, is called "Loving Day", and is a holiday to celebrate multiracial families and educate people on this very important piece of U.S. history.

I'd like to end this article by saying thank you, Richard and Mildred Loving, because without this case, I, and many other people I know, would've never existed.