Loving: The Couple That Stood by Each Other in a Time of Racial Segregation

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The Loving 2016 film starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton isn’t just a film fit for our time today, it’s a film that reminds every generation that oppression will come time and time again. And it reminds us that when it does, we have to stand up for what’s right and to keep fighting for the people we love.

The Story of the Loving Couple

Loving couple

The Lovings via Facebook/Alex Barnett

The film is about the real-life story of Mildred and Richard Loving. Mildred Delores Loving (née Jeter) was a person of color. She had African, Cherokee, and Rappahannock Native American ancestry. And she fell in love with Richard Perry Loving, who was “white”.

The two met and started dating in high school. Apparently, Mildred found Richard to be a bit arrogant at first. She was a shy and soft-spoken woman who wanted to keep their relationship on the down low. When she got pregnant at the age of 18, the couple decided to get married. Unfortunately, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 forbid interracial marriage. So, the lovers drove up to Washington DC to get hitched. After they became man and wife, they went back to their hometown in Virginia.

Their union was met with extreme disapproval. On July 11, 1958, the town sheriff and two deputies invaded the couple’s home and demanded to know their real relationship (after they had been tipped that the two were living together). Mildred, undaunted, told them she was Richard’s wife. They showed the sheriff their marriage certificate, but it only served to anger him more.

It was against Virginia law for a “white” and “colored” couple to wed in another state, then return to Virginia. The two were jailed. Richard spent only one night, but Mildred was forced to stay longer. Eventually, they pleaded guilty for having violated the law. They were told to leave Virginia and not to return together for more than two decades.

The Lovings Were Kicked Out of Virginia

They eventually settled down in Washington DC where they had three children. They would make separate visits to Virginia to see their friends and relatives. Sometimes, though, they would take return trips together in secret. Other couples might have settled with that, but the Lovings decided that it was unfair. They wanted to be able to live in Virginia, surrounded by family and friends, and live together as husband and wife.

the Lovings

Mildred and Richard Loving via Facebook/Mark Corcoran

Mildred decided to join the Civil Rights Movement, which, at that time, was slowly spreading around the United States of America. On April 10, 1967, Mildred’s case, Loving v. Virginia, had reached the US Supreme Court. While the state argued that the anti-miscegenation law was placed to protect society, Richard Loving simply said:

“Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

Marriage Is a Basic Civil Right

The couple’s legal team argued back that the Virginian law violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which addresses equal citizenship rights. It clearly said:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

 

Mildred and Richard Loving, as a married couple, had the right to live together, just like any other couple in the country. Denying them that simple right was a blight on the constitution and pledge of democracy of the United States of America. In a dramatic turn, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couple. Although the Lovings are commemorated for their case, which served as a precedent for many other cases to come, Mildred Loving said they only pursued it for a simple reason: They wanted to live together in their home.

Because of Loving v. Virginia, all clauses denying interracial marriages have been banned. June 12 has become Loving Day. Richard and Mildred have passed away, but the legacy of their love remains and stands as a reminder of bravery and courage in the face of injustice.

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