On this Day:
On June 12, 1967, Loving v. Virginia, a Supreme Court case, was released, which struck down state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States. The plaintiffs in the case were Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and Black woman whose marriage was deemed illegal according to Virginia state law. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Lovings appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that so-called “anti-miscegenation” statutes were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The decision is often cited as a watershed moment in the dismantling of “Jim Crow” race laws.
What Is Miscegenation?
The Loving case was a challenge to centuries of American laws banning miscegenation, i.e., any marriage or interbreeding among different races. Restrictions on miscegenation existed as early as the colonial era, and of the 50 U.S. states, all but nine had a law against the practice at some point in their history.
Early attempts to dispute race-based marriage bans in court met with little success. One of the first and most noteworthy cases was 1883’s Pace v. Alabama, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Alabama anti-miscegenation law was constitutional because it punished Black people and white people equally. In 1888, meanwhile, the high court ruled that states had the authority to regulate marriage.
By the 1950s, more than half the states in the Union—including every state in the South—still had laws restricting marriage by racial classifications. 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.
Richard and Mildred Loving
The central figures in Loving v. Virginia were Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, a couple from the town of Central Point in Caroline County, Virginia.
Richard, a white construction worker, and Mildred, a woman of mixed African American and Native American ancestry, were longtime friends who had fallen in love. In June 1958, they exchanged wedding vows in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriage was legal, and then returned home to Virginia.
On July 11, 1958, just five weeks after their wedding, the Lovings were woken in their bed at about 2:00 a.m. and arrested by the local sheriff. Richard and Mildred were indicted on charges of violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, which deemed interracial marriages a felony.
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.
Richard and Mildred Loving’s Children
Following their court case, the Lovings were forced to leave Virginia and relocate to Washington, D.C. The couple lived in exile in the nation’s capital for several years and raised three children—sons Sidney and Donald and a daughter, Peggy—but they longed to return to their hometown.
In 1963, a desperate Mildred Loving wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy asking for assistance. Kennedy referred the Lovings to the American Civil Liberties Union, which agreed to take their case.
The Loving V. Virginia Supreme Court Case
The Lovings began their legal battle in November 1963. With the aid of Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, two young ACLU lawyers, the couple filed a motion asking for Judge Bazile to vacate their conviction and set aside their sentences.
When Bazile refused, Cohen and Hirschkop took the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which also upheld the original ruling. Following another appeal, the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court in April 1967 (per https://www.history.com/topics/civil-rights-movement/loving-v-virginia).
Did Virginia’s antimiscegenation law violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Yes. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that distinctions drawn according to race were generally “odious to a free people” and were subject to “the most rigid scrutiny” under the Equal Protection Clause. The Virginia law, the Court found, had no legitimate purpose “independent of invidious racial discrimination.” The Court rejected the state’s argument that the statute was legitimate because it applied equally to both blacks and whites and found that racial classifications were not subject to a “rational purpose” test under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court also held that the Virginia law violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. “Under our Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.” (per https://www.oyez.org/cases/1966/395).
First, a Joke:
What’s black and white and wed all over?
An Interracial Marriage…
Second, a Song:
Courtesy of The New York Times and YouTube.com, here is a video: “Mixed Race Marriages in the South.”
The 2010 census shows that the USA’s mixed race population is growing faster than demographers expected.
Being a mixed race couple in the South used to be illegal, but now it is becoming a lot more familiar. We hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.” – Homer
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky