In Memory of Mildred Loving

Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard Loving, in 1965.

hide captionMildred Loving and her husband, Richard, shown in 1965, challenged Virginia's ban on interracial marriages.

AP

Mildred Loving passed away with little notice last Friday. You may not know her name, but Mrs. Loving was a civil rights activist. Like many who played a role in the civil rights movement — Emmett Till, Rosa Parks — Mrs. Loving wasn't looking to change the world by her actions. All she was looking to do was be married to her husband, Richard. Richard was white, and Mildred was black and when they were married in 1958, interracial marriage — "miscegenation" is the pejorative — was against the law in their home state of Virginia, as well as 16 other states.

Interracial marriage was once a concept so odious that in 1912, Rep. Seaborn Roddenbery of Georgia tried to introduce an amendment to the Constitution banning such unions. To his colleagues in Congress he lectured, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune:

"It is contrary and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is contrary and averse to the very principles of a pure Saxon government. It is subversive of social peace. ... No more voracious parasite ever sucked at the heart of pure society and moral status than the one which welcomes or recognizes everywhere the sacred ties of wedlock between Africa and America."

Aren't you glad we're living in a time when politicians don't use relationships between consenting adults as wedge issues?

I digress.

The Lovings spent time in jail for the high crime of being married to each other, were forced to move from Virginia...

Then, in June of 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Lovings' ACLU-supported challenge to the Virginia law banning interracial marriages.

Forty years later, there's something like 4.3 million mixed-marriage couples in the United States. Never mind the number of people legally allowed to love as they please, Mildred Loving never thought she personally had done anything special. "It was God's work," she told the Associated Press in an interview last year.

Though their only desire was to be together, it was not meant to be for the Lovings. Richard was killed in a 1975 car accident.

Well, they're together again now.

It's a pity that unlike Mildred, Richard Loving could not live to see the son of a relationship once considered contrary to "every sentiment of pure American spirit" one step removed from the highest office in the land.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Mildred Loving was a key figure in the civil rights movement, by standing up for what she believed in and for giving so many people a voice.

As John Ridley points out, we still live in a time in which not all consenting adults can freely express their love for one another. Gay and lesbian marriages are not widely accepted or legal in the United States. Mildred Loving's story is a beautiful, inspiring one...it reminds how far we have come as a country, but highlights how far we need to go to be accepting of everyone and to guarantee civil rights and freedoms are preserved for every citizen.

Sent by shanna | 9:03 PM | 5-9-2008

John,

This is TWICE this year that I've agreed with you. One of us is changing. Why, oh why, can't things be like they used to?

Seriously--nice job on the Loving piece.

Sent by Wolf | 3:48 PM | 5-10-2008

While Rosa Parks may not have set out to "test" a segregation law in the same way that Homer Plessy, acting on behalf of a civil rights organization had in New Orleans in 1892, the Montgomery NAACP, of which she was a member and whose president, E.D. Nixon, she served as elected volunteer secretary from 1943 to 1957, was looking to test the law. Prominent figures in the black community of Montgomery, Alabama (including Martin Luther King, Jr.) "had quietly jettisoned the case of a young black teen who had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat months before Rosa Parks when it was discovered that she was pregnant and unmarried...Another young black woman, Mary Louise Smith, was arrested shortly after Colvin, but Nixon thought her dilapidated home and alcoholic father would be a public relations liability." This according to the essay "The Real Rosa Parks" in Spelman College history professor William Jelani Cobb's recent collection, "The Devil and Dave Chappelle." In addition, Colvin, at the time of her arrest, was active in the NAACP's Youth Council, a group to which Rosa Parks served as Advisor.

Thanks for the information on Mildred and Richard Loving, I will do some research of my own.

PS Albert Murray (novelist, essayist, biographer, and one of the founding members of Jazz at Lincoln Center) will turn 92 on Monday, May 12. Of the half-dozen or so of his books that I've read, the ones I always find myself re-reading are "Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Albert Murray and Ralph Ellison" and his classic 1970 essay collection, "The Omni-Americans."

Sent by Dave | 3:42 PM | 5-11-2008

John,

Thank you for taking the time to cover this piece. It holds a special place in my heart as I am a child from a mixed marriage. My father is African-American and my mother is Japanese. They married in 1962 and I can only imagine what a difficult life it was for them during those early times much like the Loving's. Miraculously, my parents will celebrate 46 years of marriage next month. I am thankful for Mildred and Richard's unyielding courage and their desire to love one another outside of the cultural norms of their day.

Sent by Marcus | 6:08 PM | 5-11-2008

It is indeed sad and regretable Mrs. Loving never received the full honor and recognition she deserved. Not so much for the courage she had to love and marry a person from a different ethnic group; but for the courage to stand up and fight for the right to demand recognition and respect for her relationship. It is on the shoulders of people such as Mrs. Loving that the savage in all of us become a little more gentle and the seeds of humanity are nourished in otherwise civilized societies. The world is a little more deminished by her death.

Sent by Michael S | 10:12 PM | 5-11-2008

The Loving Case has special significance for me as my husband is Japanese and I am white. We have been married for almost 13 years and have a wonderful 9 year old daughter, 50 years ago that would not have been possible in some states. I thank her from the bottom of my heart. Also, with the candidacy (hopefully Presidency) of Senator Barack Obama may we finally erase the stain that is racism in this country.

Sent by Jennifer Ohashi | 3:19 PM | 5-12-2008

I believe all of us that knew of her passing and her story were the ones that needed to know. This story reminds me of the Apostle Paul explaining to the people at Corinth about Love... "Love is patient, love is kind"... May they rest in God's eternal peace.

Sent by Betty in Dallas | 3:42 PM | 5-13-2008

I recall seeing a movie about this couple when I was still in high school. I am an immigrant and a product of interracial marriage[1952], who were products of ethnic intermingling too--Latino/Native Indian[my father] and Black/German [my mother]-- so this movie was interesting. I knew that the USA as a country was rather against any ethnic/interracial mix even as a child growing up in the 1970's and 80's and that was a marvel because I believe that with such thinking, I would not be existing. Eventually, I married a Caucasian American [14 years ago] and only decided to live here because he thought we had more opportunities since I had more formal education than him. However, I knew that to live here would mean continuous need to prove or explain my background because I also speak English with only a wisp of my origin's accent, which further illuminates my anomaly. So even today I can see the eyes enlargen as we enter a room and the smiles to cover the real thought behind them when my kids are with me calling me MOM. I have even work with several people who have openly mentioned the disdain for any marriages like mine. Yes, things have change but slowly...nevertheless, the lesson to learn in it all is that we are all human and we all have the same needs, belonging and being loved being on the top. My hope is for America to get beyond that like many of the other industrialized countries who also benefited from keeping those that are the minority enslaved--France, Italy, Denmark, England...Thanks Mr and Mrs Loving, how appropriate your name was what your legacy will be.

Sent by YGR from AZ | 3:51 PM | 5-13-2008

As a woman that has loved some one out side of my race. I do understand Mrs Loving's desire just to love someone. Not because of their skin color, just because of them. My family put so much pressure on the young man that I loved that he just couldn't take it and walked away. To this day I think about what could have been. If you love someone no matter their race, just love them and not live in what could have been, but live in what a blessing this relationship is.

Sent by De Grisby | 4:17 PM | 5-13-2008

4.3 million mixed marriages now in the country!... and yet our Television shows and Movies are not adequately reflecting this diversity and acceptance in abundance yet. There was a FOX TV Show called "True Colors" starring Frankie Faison and the late great Nancy Walker that I feel should be in reruns somewhere even now, because our Country was still not ready for a show of that nature when it first aired in the late 80's (early 90's?), which is why it was cancelled. It was an excellent sitcom. A few movies handle mixed relationships with no big attention being focused on the interracial aspect (as it should be), but still so many of those who "cast" actors and "greenlight" these shows and films are still not up to our contemporary casual acceptance. Well, we have a son of mixed marriage running for the highest Office in the land today, and in there lies real hope. I would love to see our TV Shows reflect the dreams of Mr. & Mrs. Loving. May they both rest in peace - together.

Sent by Ella | 5:41 PM | 5-13-2008

John,

Keep up the good work. I learned something new of someone I had never heard of. It's stories like this that keep me a faithful listener of NPR.

Sent by Richard (Los Angeles) | 6:17 PM | 5-13-2008

If we were truly a nation without racial bias, interacial marriage wouldn't even be an issue.

Sent by Mark Crowel | 12:18 PM | 8-24-2008

Support comes from: