On July 11, 1958 a couple of hours after midnight, Richard Loving a white man and Mildred Loving an African American woman were awakened to the presence of three officers in their bedroom. One of the three officers demanded from Richard to identify the woman next to him. Mildred, full of fear, told the officers that she was his wife, while Richard pointed to the marriage license on the wall. The couple was then charged and later found guilty in violation of the state’s anti-miscegenation statute.
Mr. and Mrs. Loving were residents of the small town of Central point, Virginia. They were family friends who had dated each other since he was seventeen and she a teenager. When they learned that marriage was illegal for them in Virginia, they simply drove over the Washington, D. C. for the ceremony. They returned to Virginia and were arrested the following month for violating the anti-miscegenation statute, which was declared in the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Commonwealth’s Attorney Bernard Mahon obtained the warrant for Richard Loving and “Mildred Jeter”.
Mildred’s maiden name was on the warrant because in Virginia a marriage between a white and black was considered void. In October 1958, the indictments of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were bought before the court and on January 6, 1959, Richard and Mildred pled not guilty to the charges. Changing their pleas to guilty and waiving their right to a jury trial due to fear and optimism for a favorable punishment, the Lovings took the plea bargain. The Circuit Court judge that was presiding over the case, Judge Leon M. Bazile, did not see favor on them and sentenced them to one year in jail.
Yet, at the same time in agreement with the plea bargain, Judge Bazile suspended the sentence for 25 years provided that the Lovings would leave the state of Virginia immediately and not return together for the whole period. There was a catch, for when the 25 year period ends they would still face the prosecution of the court if they ever returned. He concluded his decision with this quote: 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 case for such marriages.
The fact that he separated the races shows that he did intend for the races to mix. Later, in a plea to the supreme court of appeals in Virginia as to the constitutionality of these provisions in the decision, the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia referred to The Equal Protection Clause stating that: The definition of the offense must apply equally to whites and Negroes … to the same degree.
Thus, … because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, … not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race. The court also referred to its 1955 decision in “Naim v. Naim” as stating the reasons supporting the validity of the anti-miscegenation laws. In Naim, the state court concluded that the State’s legitimate purposes were “to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,” and to prevent “the corruption of blood,” “a mongrel breed of citizens,” and “the obliteration of racial pride,” obviously an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy.
The court also reasoned that marriage has traditionally been subject to state regulation without federal intervention, and consequently, the regulation of marriage should be left to exclusive state control by the Tenth Amendment. The statements related to the courts attempt to “preserve the racial integrity of its citizens” would have been ludicrous any place but was especially laughable in Caroline County, and in the Lovings’ hometown of Central Point, which had been an epicenter of race mixing for at least 200 years.
White families and their fair-skinned black relatives lived so close together that they bumped into each other on the street. Mixed-race people were initially treated as a “new people” who existed in the space between white and black and deserved a status which was in general higher then blacks but was not as high as whites. This special status began to dry up just before the Civil War and evaporated when slavery ended and free blacks competed with whites for jobs and political power. The struggle for acceptance for interracial couples was fought in both courts and public opinion.
In 1948 in the California Supreme Court in the case of Perez v. Lippold (AKA Perez v. Sharp) became the first state court in the nation to strike down laws prohibiting interracial marriage nearly 20 years before the U. S. Supreme Court did so. The Supreme Court of California ruled that that state’s ban on interracial marriage violated the federal constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. During the 1960s, the civil rights movement helped reverse many of the legal barriers against miscegenation. The Warren Court, through its 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, was actively striving to end discrimination against blacks.
The court continued to strike down legal segregation throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In a series of short opinions, the court outlawed segregation in buses, parks, public golf courses, and other places. In each case, the court cited the Brown opinion. So when the case of McLaughlin v. Florida appeared on the table in 1964, the Court was again ready to deal with the question of racial classification. In McLaughlin, the Court ruled as invalid a Florida statute that allowed more severe penalties for cohabitation and adultery by interracial couples than same-race pairs.
Justice Potter Stewart in a concurring opinion concluded, “It is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor”. Yet it seems that to the public these monumental Supreme Court decisions served no purpose, for in a 1958 Gallup poll it was discovered that 94 percent of Americans disapproved of interracial marriage. It’s only the courts decisions that truly mattered to Mildred, which is why in 1963 (four years in their exile) Mildred wrote the U. S. Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, for help and advice.
She had heard about a bill that was being proposed in Congress (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and wanted to see if that bill would assist them in anyway. Mr. Kennedy responded back informing Mrs. loving that the federal government could not do anything for them; however, he suggested that they contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for assistance. Jumping to the opportunity, Mildred contacted the ACLU and informed them of their situation.
One of the ACLU members who happened to be a lawyer, Bernard S. Cohen, was very intrigued with the Lovings situation and was quite eager to take it on. As Cohen as their lawyer, the Lovings decided to test their luck again with the court. Mr. Cohen decided to name the case Loving v Virginia in connection to the special meaning associated with Richard’s strong love for his wife. Frustrated and upset with the previous outcomes of the Virginia courts, Richard and Mildred Loving decided to challenge the courts one more time in their pursuit of that “normal marriage life. ”
Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop perfected an appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court and on December 12, 1966, the court agreed to hear the case, Loving v. Virginia was born. There was just one glitch with Lovings’ argument: the integrating of the Brown decision into the unconstitutionality of miscegenation. Since this tactic did not work with the Virginia Supreme Court, Cohen and Hirschkop did not want to chance it with the U. S. Supreme Court and so, they decided to just stick with their main argument: violation of the due process and equal protection of the 14th amendment.
Along the way, the Lovings’ have received a lot of support from various organizations such as the Japanese Americans Citizens League, the NAACP, and assorted Catholic organizations; these organizations proved to be useful in their assistance throughout the trial. For instance the Japanese Americans Citizens League was allowed to file amicus curiae (brief in support of the Loving) they provided information that stated that many states prohibited marriage between other races not just black and white. On April 10, 1967, the court began hearing arguments; the Chief Justice that presided was Justice Earl Warren.
Chief Justice Earl Warren was also the chief justice that presided over the Brown v Board of Education in 1954. On June 12, 1967 the case was decided by a vote of 9 to 0. Chief justice Earl Warren invalidated the law as an impossible racial classification prohibited by the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment. Warren held that: Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival… To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications… surely to deprive all… of liberty without due process of law.
The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. 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. The legacy this Supreme Court decision left behind lie in two separate but equal parts. A part of its legacy lies in the legal precedence it set with its many applications in cases that followed it. as in the case of Dick v. Reaves (1967) in Oklahoma where Loving was used in the decision to grant the stepchild of an interracial marriage, the inheritance property of her father.
In other cases it gave states no reason to remove children from the homes of interracial couples; stepparents in interracial unions acquired the right to legally adopt their children from their spouses; employers could no longer deny employment based on the race of the person’s spouse, and it might again be relevant today in its possible use towards the support for the acceptance of same-sex marriages.
Another equally important legacy lies in the driving force for the case itself, which appropriately shares its name with the name of the case. Loving v. Virginia showed the length to which people in love would go in order to prove their love to each other. It showed the public that love has no color, no race, and as we are beginning to realize today no gender as well. The immediate impact of Loving On civil liberties was significant partly due to the fact that it finally removed the last Jim Crow law on the books.
However, an even stronger impact was felt in its display of the complicated ideas of race and segregation that were developed over the centuries. The light that had traced the development of the racist attitudes from Biblical passages to “scientific” research would now serve as much needed insight to those in search of equality. A significant force for Civil Liberties in Supreme Court cases is the setting of precedence’s for hope. Today, Loving v.
Virginia serves as just that to a new group best illustrated in this paragraph from an article written by Randall Kennedy a Professor at Harvard Law At a time when many observers question whether America has made any real progress, on the racial front, it is worth recalling that as late as 1967, sixteen states prohibited people from marrying across racial frontiers. Now no such prohibitions exist… Just as many people once found trans-racial marriage to be a loathsome potentiality well-worth prohibiting, so, too, do many people find same-sex marriage to be an abomination.