It’s June 12th! Loving Day!

Loving Day is being celebrated world-wide. You might think that Loving Day is Valentine’s Day, February 14th, but it’s not, it’s today, June 12th. If you don’t know what Loving Day is, let me tell you a story, a love story, in this brief episode.

In the 1950s, a 17-year-old young man named Richard fell in love with a neighborhood girl named Mildred. Over the years, they became closer and closer until, in 1958, they married. They were a little uncomfortable getting married at home, so they, essentially, eloped. They went on to have three children, and, all accounts, were completely devoted to each other and remained deeply in love.

So, it’s a fairly straight-forward story, probably repeated dozens of times in the country every year, and just as often in the rest of the world. Lots of people fall in love and elope. But, usually, they elope because they’re worried about parental disapproval, or something like that. Richard and Mildred eloped for a different reason. They couldn’t get married in their hometown, or even their home state of Virginia, because it was illegal. Not because they were too young. By the time they married in 1958, Mildred was 18 and Richard was 24.

No, it was illegal for them to marry because of Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act. This law forbade people considered “white” to marry people considered “colored,” that is, non-white. You see, Richard was white and Mildred was colored. And in Virginia, as in every south-eastern state in the United States, such marriages were illegal until 1967.

But Richard and Mildred had grown up in Central Point, in Caroline County, in eastern Virginia. Central Point was unusual in Virginia, and in the South, because it had been a community with frequent racial mixing for almost a hundred years by the time Richard and Mildred met. Their families knew each other well and were considered friends. Despite the “live and let live” atmosphere of Central Point, Jim Crow laws and social expectations reigned across Virginia (even though Central Point was the exception).

Richard and Mildred couldn’t get married legally in Virginia, so they went to Washington DC in 1958 (where there were no such restrictions). Again, being used to the fluid racial situation in their hometown of Central Point, they eventually returned there and set up a home. The Caroline County police, however, must of had a Jim Crow spasm. They burst into their home in the early hours of July 11, 1958 and arrested them under Virginia’s various laws, including the 1924 Racial Integrity Act, the State Code (which prohibited interracial couples married in other states from moving to Virginia), and the state’s anti-miscegenation laws.

Anti-miscegenation laws prohibited racial mixing in terms of sexuals relations, marriage, and having children. Of course, this was hugely hypocritical in a state with a historical tradition of sexual encounters between white men and black women, which often included rape or other forms of coercion. But, then as well as now, no realistic person can ever expect a racist society to be morally or legally consistent.

In order to avoid imprisonment, Richard and Mildred pleaded guilty in early 1959 to violating “the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” [of Virginia]. They asked to be allowed to return to Washington DC rather than be jailed.

While living in DC, however, Richard and Mildred were banned from travelling to Virginia to visit family and friends, and they felt totally isolated. They appealed their marriage ban to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1964, and he passed their case on to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU took the case and tried to appeal their conviction in the Virginia courts. Not surprisingly, the local Caroline County court, the US District court for Eastern Virginia, and the Virginia Supreme Court either upheld the original ruling or side-stepped it by delaying or refusing the hear the case.

It then went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously on June 12th, 1967 that Virginia’s laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional, and struck them down. This effectively meant that all such laws in the United States were unconstitutional. Richard and Mildred then happily returned to Virginia as legal man and wife, bringing their three children with them and reuniting with their families.

If you don’t already know about the origins of Loving Day, you might think that it takes its name from the simple act of “love” — two people being in love with each other and being able to express that love. But throughout this episode I’ve neglected to give you Richard and Mildred’s last name. It was “Loving.” It was Richard Loving who met Mildred back in the 1950s. The two of them got married in 1958 and began their lives together. The name of their Supreme Court case was Loving vs. Virginia, and the outcome is quite rightly referred to as the Loving Decision of 1967.

Loving Day as day of celebration was created in 2004 by Ken Tanabe, a college student. It has gone on to be observed and celebrated almost everywhere, and is often considered the most widely-celebrated holiday of its type in the world.

Sadly, Richard Loving died in car accident in 1975 and Mildred Loving died in 2008. They did not live to see Loving Day become the major celebration that it is. But these two young lovers from Virginia could hardly have done more than they did for equality, justice, and pure decency in our modern world.

Please go to lovingday.org to learn how and where Loving Day is observed and celebrated, to contribute to its cause, and to reflect on this very important step forward in American history and society.

Happy Loving Day. Talk to you next week.


Buzzkill Bookshelf

The Loving Story (2011)

A racially charged criminal trial and a heartrending love story converge in this documentary about Mildred and Richard Loving, set during the turbulent Civil Rights era. An HBO documentary.