Interracial Marriage Was Actually Illegal In 16 States In 1967 (Loving v. Virginia)
Married couple Mildred and Richard Loving (1933 - 1975) embracing at a press conference the day after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in 'Loving v. Virginia,' June 13, 1967. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
The Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia found that state laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional -- and there were 16 states with such laws on the books in 1967. The courageous couple Mildred and Charles Loving had been branded felons in, and in fact exiled from, their home state of Virginia, and they knew this couldn't be right. Not in the United States, with its noble principles enshrined in the Constitution -- right? Well, no. America's deep-seated issues with race, dating back to slavery, were responsible for many laws and customs that today stand out as obviously -- even comically -- unjust. But in the '60s, when black Americans were fighting to go to the same schools as whites and use the same drinking fountains, laws against interracial marriage were just another manifestation of the white supremacist attitudes that sought to legislate racial purity.
Prior To Mildred And Richard Loving
The first attempts to end the ban on interracial marriage, named the anti-miscegenation laws, came nearly 20 years after the end of the Civil War. In 1883 Pace v. Alabama, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s racist anti-miscegenation law was constitutional because it punished blacks and whites equally. The justification would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetically depressing and sad.
By the mid-1950s, almost 100 years after the Civil War, more than half of the states in the country still had laws restricting interracial marriage and couples. The entire South refused to budge on laws that would narrow the chasm of racial inequality.
Love Is Blind
Enter Mildred Jeter, a Black and Native American woman, and Richard Loving a white construction worker. They were both from Virginia and grew up as friends who eventually fell in love. In 1958 they went to Washington D.C, where interracial marriage was legal, exchanged vows, and returned home to Virginia.
Five weeks after their wedding, at 2 in the morning, the local sheriff roused them out of their bed and interrogated them, “Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?” Mrs. Loving responded, “I’m his wife.”The Sheriff answered “That’s no good here” and arrested them on charges of violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law.
Under Virginia’s 1924’s Act to “Preserve Racial Integrity,” interracial marriage was illegal and those who violated the law faced 1 to 5 years in prison. The couple pled guilty and received one year in prison. In his ruling, Judge Leon M. Bazile said,“If God had meant for whites and blacks to mix, he would have not placed them on different continents.”
He also reminded the Lovings that “as long as you live you will be known as a felon.” However, the sentence was suspended on the condition that the couple would leave Virginia and not return together for 25 years.
The Lovings Were Homesick For The State That Had Exiled Them
The Lovings moved to Washington D.C and raised three children together. Nevertheless, they yearned to return to their hometown. Looking for help, Mildred wrote a letter to U.S Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy explaining their situation. Kennedy passed the letter onto the American Civil Liberties Union, which took up the Loving’s case.
First, their lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, filed a motion asking Judge Bazile to strike their conviction and erase their sentences. He refused. So they took their case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which also upheld the original ruling. Four years after they began their odyssey for the right to love regardless of race, the case reached the United States Supreme Court in April 1967.
Racist Laws Only Make Sense If You're Racist
Virginia’s Assistant Attorney General Robert D. McIlwaine III compared interracial marriage to incest and polygamy. The good guys argued that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees all citizens due process and equal protection under the law, should allow the Lovings to marry. As Hirschkop argued, “These are not health and welfare laws. These are slavery laws, pure and simple.”
Love Conquers Hate
On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Virginia’s interracial marriage law violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. “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,” said Chief Justice Earl Warren. The ruling left the Lovings to love wherever they wanted and overturned similar laws in 16 states.
However, the hands of justice move slowly. Many states dragged their feet on changing their racist laws. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the last state, Alabama, removed anti-miscegenation laws from their books. Loving v. Virginia also helped pave the way for same-sex marriages in 2015.
Tags: Interracial Marriage | Loving v Virginia | Racism | Remember This?... | The Civil Rights Movement | U.S. Supreme Court
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