“Tell the court I love my wife.”
Though simple, this declaration from Richard Loving about his wife Mildred Loving was the very heart of the landmark United States Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia.
By all accounts, the Lovings’ relationship began as most do: the pair started as friends and their connection eventually transformed into a romantic one. The Lovings met and lived in Caroline County, Virginia but were married in Washington, D.C. in 1958.
And this is where the Lovings’ story goes from standard to historical. As an interracial couple the Lovings had to get married in Washington since their union was deemed illegal and invalid in the eyes of their home state.
Shortly after the newlyweds returned back to Virginia, their home was raided by police and the Lovings were arrested. The pair were charged under two sections of Virginia law: one which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and returning to Virginia, and the second, which declared miscegenation (marriage or cohabitation by persons of different races) a felony.
The Lovings pled guilty and were sentenced to a year in prison. To avoid prison though, the couple took an offer that forced them to leave Virginia and not return together for 25 years.
After leaving Virginia the Lovings moved to Washington where they started their family, but they were not without their share of challenges. The Lovings were far from their families and faced financial and social hardships. In 1963, frustrated with their lives in Washington, Mildred took a bold and courageous step and started to take legal action against the discriminatory laws by writing directly to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help. Kennedy’s office saw Mildred’s letter and referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The Lovings reached out to the ACLU and were put in contact with volunteer attorneys Bernard S. Cohen and, later, Philip J. Hirschkop who on behalf of the Lovings filed a motion to clear the Loving’s sentence in Virginia on the grounds that the states miscegenation laws were in opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Together, the Lovings, Cohen, and Hirschkop would fight for years to overturn the Court’s rulings against interracial marriages. Eventually, the Lovings’ case made it to the United States Supreme Court. Though the Lovings didn’t attend the oral arguments in Washington, a personal message from Richard was conveyed through Cohen to the Courts: “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
On June 12, 1967, in a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings. With the Court’s ruling, the Lovings’ criminal convictions were overturned and Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws were struck down too. The decision also established that throughout the country, the racist laws against interracial marriages and relationships of the past were no longer supported or justified by the law.
To celebrate this historical civil rights victory, June 12 has been dubbed “Loving Day.” This is an important day to recognize the efforts of the Lovings and countless other interracial couples who fought both in the legal system and society for the right to love regardless of race.
Loving Day is also a day for both celebration, education, and the continuous pursuit of justice. The beauty of Loving Day is there’s no one way to celebrate. Some may choose to celebrate the beauty of interracial relationships with photos and stories, while others may take the day to acknowledge and educate friends and family of the hardships still faced by interracial couples.
Today, it seems almost impossible to imagine a world in which relationships were confined to only one’s own race. Yet, the Supreme Court’s decision to make interracial marriages valid under law came only 55 years ago. This Loving Day, we at The Kindship encourage you to use your resources and voice to continue rejoicing in progress and advocating for justice.
For more resources on Loving Day visit:
Loving film available to view on Netflix
Image courtesy of USA Today and the Associated Press.