What the world needs now: Loving Day

Law banning interracial marriage struck down in 1967

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/06/2020 (789 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Welcome to a day the world desperately needs.

Today is Loving Day — which has nothing to do with hugs and kisses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, but everything to do with the struggle for racial equality.

Loving Day is an annual celebration held June 12 to mark the anniversary of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down remaining state laws banning interracial marriage. It is named for the landmark case, Loving v. Virginia, and the couple at its centre, Richard and Mildred Loving, who refused to accept a racist law that said their love was somehow a crime.

The Associated Press files Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard Loving, on Jan. 26, 1965. The couple refused to accept a racist law saying their love was a crime.

With the unprecedented wave of anti-racism protests sweeping the world in the wake of the horrific Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, the Lovings story has become more important than ever.

If you have not seen the 2016 movie (Loving) chronicling their legal ordeal, what you need to know is Richard, a white construction worker, and Mildred, a woman of colour, were longtime friends who fell in love.

In June 1958, the couple exchanged wedding vows in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriage was legal, then returned to their home in Caroline County, Va., where it was not.

“In Virginia, interracial marriage was illegal under 1924’s Act to Preserve Racial Integrity. Those who violated the law risked anywhere from one to five years in a state penitentiary,” according to the website history.com.

On July 11, 1958, the Lovings were jolted out of bed at about 2 a.m., and arrested by the local sheriff for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, which made marriage between different races a crime.

“When the couple pleaded guilty the following year, Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced them to one year in prison, but suspended the sentence on the condition that they would leave Virginia and not return together for a period of 25 years,” history.com notes.

They relocated to Washington, D.C., where they essentially lived in exile, raised three children, and dreamed about returning to their beloved hometown.

“They were simple people who wanted to live a simple life, and they were determined to go back home. After living the next five years in exile and raising their three children, Mildred found an opening,” biography.com recalls.

In 1963, Mildred wrote to then-attorney general Robert F. Kennedy pleading their case, and he referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union, which took the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

During one famous exchange, ACLU lawyer Philip Hirschkop declared Virginia’s marriage law was rooted in racism and white supremacy. “These are not health and welfare laws,” he argued. “These are slavery laws, pure and simple.”

In its landmark decision, the top court not only overturned the Lovings’ criminal conviction, but also struck down laws against interracial marriage in 16 holdout states.

“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,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote.

Despite her courage and determination in standing up to a clearly racist law, soft-spoken Mildred refused to accept she was a hero. “It wasn’t my doing,” she told The Associated Press in a rare interview in 2007. “It was God’s work.”

The historic ruling changed marriage in America, but for the Lovings it simply meant they had the freedom to go home and raise their three children without fear.

Richard was killed in 1975, when a drunk driver struck the couple’s car. Mildred survived the crash and went on to spend the rest of her life in the town of Central Point, Va. She died in 2008, having never remarried.

The world celebrates Loving Day because, in 2004, graduate design student Ken Tanabe made the couple’s historic struggle the subject of his graduate thesis project.

In light of the grassroots protests currently sweeping the world, Tanabe told the newspaper USA Today he’d like people around the world to take “a meaningful pause” today to stand in solidarity with the Black community.

It’s impossible to say what the Lovings would make of the events roiling the world the last few weeks. I suspect they’d be pleased by the winds of change that are toppling the statues of Confederate leaders and slave traders in the U.S. and England.

And they’d likely be impressed to learn 15,000 Winnipeggers protested peacefully a week ago, adding their voices to the rapidly growing fight against racism and police brutality directed at Black people.

A year before her death in 2008, on the 40th anniversary of the Lovings’ landmark case, Mildred offered this public support for gay marriage: “The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone, they have a right to marry.”

Everyone should reflect on this couple’s story today, and remember: sometimes, standing up for what you know is right can be an act of love.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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