Mildred Delores Jeter, born in 1939 or 1940, grew up in Central Point, near Bowling Green, Caroline County, Virginia. It was a small town where of course everybody knew everybody else. By the time Mildred was eleven or twelve years old, she was smitten with the handsome, blond, older boy with the curious name, Richard Loving. A friend of Mildred’s family, Richard must have liked her, too, because they became sweethearts.
When Mildred turned 18, Richard asked her to marry him. There was just one problem: Mildred was not blonde like her sweetheart. Mildred was the daughter of two parents who were part black and part Indian. The Commonwealth of Virginia prohibited mixed race marriages under its 1924 “Racial Integrity Act.” So Richard and Mildred drove about 90 miles north to Washington, D/C. They picked the name of a minister from the D.C. phone book, and got married. Then they drove back home.
Five or six weeks later, the Caroline County sheriff rousted Mr. and Mrs. Loving from their bed at 2:00 a.m. “Whose this woman you’re sleeping with?” he demanded of Richard.
“I’m his wife,” Mildred replied. The sheriff handcuffed them both and took them to jail. They were charged with illegally “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” in violation of the Racial Integrity Act, a felony.
At their trial, the Lovings pled guilty. Judge Leon Bazile said, “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 marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”
The judge sentenced them to one year in jail, but suspended the term for 25 years on condition that the Lovings leave Virginia and not return. Upon their release, they moved to Washington, D.C. On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the convictions, but pointedly reminded the trial judge that they should have been sentenced to prison, not jail.
The Lovings might have, at that point, lived the rest of their lives in blissful obscurity. But Mildred missed her mother and Richard didn’t think it right that he could not raise his family in the place where he grew up and called home.
Mildred wrote to then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1963. He referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union. With ACLU lawyers, the Lovings began fighting their convictions and banishment in both state and federal court.
On April 10, 1967, the case came before the United States Supreme Court. You can hear the argument yourself right here. The issue was whether Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage (and similar laws in 17 other states) violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Court announced its decision two months later, on June 12, 1967. Chief Justice Earl Warren, speaking for a unanimous Court, said the Virginia law was simply “invidious racial discrimination” which was “odious to a free people.” The law was unconstitutional. Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).
Justice had prevailed for the Lovings and many others.
Richard and Mildred moved back home and quietly raised their three children.
Richard Perry Loving died the victim of a drunk driver in 1975.
Mildred Jeter Loving passed away last Friday, May 2, 2008.
June 12 is celebrated by mixed race couples and their friends and families as “Loving Day.”
Audio of oral argument and text of case provided by The Oyez Project, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.
May 6, 2008 Tuesday at 1:28 pm