NPR logo In Memory of Mildred Loving

In Memory of Mildred Loving

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

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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.