Mildred Dolores Jeter and Richard Perry Loving fell in love. They were
both born and raised in the state of Virginia. Mildred was black and Richard
was white. Their love was a crime in Virginia.
In 1958, Mildred discovered she was pregnant. She and Richard travelled
to Washington DC and got married. They did not marry in Virginia, because
marriages between a white person and a non-white person were illegal.
(The law only forbade white people from marrying non-white people. There
was no law against other racial inter marriages.)
Shortly after they married, the local police department received a “tip”
about illegal sexual relations between a black woman and a white man.
The police raided their home during the night, hoping to find them engaging
in sexual relations – a crime in itself. The couple were merely
sleeping, and could not be charged with that crime.
Mildred showed the police their marriage license. The police informed them
that the license was not legal in the state of Virginia, and arrested
them under the state’s miscegenation laws. Their “crime”
was a felony subject to five years in prison!
Mildred and Richard pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to a year in prison.
Upon completion of their sentence, they were banished from Virginia and
not allowed to return to the state for 25 years. They served their sentences
and moved to Washington DC.
By 1964, Mildred was frustrated with their inability to visit family in
Virginia. She wrote a letter to then US Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
Kennedy suggested they contact the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU],
and they did. The ACLU took up their cause and a motion on behalf of the
Lovings in the Virginia Caroline County Circuit Court, that requested
the court to vacate the criminal judgments and set aside the Lovings'
sentences on the grounds that the Virginia miscegenation statutes ran
counter to the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution:
the equal protection clause. The case went all the way up to the United
States Supreme Court.
The State of Virginia argued before the Supreme Court that the law was
fair, because it punished both white and other “coloreds”
The US Supreme Court unanimously found for the Lovings. Chief Justice Earl
“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 embodied in
these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle
of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive
all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The
Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not
be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. 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…
…There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent
of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification.
The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving
white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand
on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.”
In a concurring opinion Justice Potter Stewart wrote: "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."
Sadly, in many southern states, the miscegenation laws remained on the
books for many years, even though they were not enforceable.