'Loving Day' Personified in Presidential Race

June 12 is celebrated by many interracial couples and families as "Loving Day." It's the day in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the laws banning interracial marriage. The day is named for the couple who brought the case to court, Richard and Mildred Loving.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This day, June 12th, is a holiday for some Americans. It's not on the federal holiday calendar, but it is on the calendar of MORNING EDITION commentator John Ridley.

JOHN RIDLEY: Forty-one years ago the Green Bay Packers were champs of the first Super Bowl; the Jimi Hendrix Experience released their debut album; and interracial couples could still not legally marry in 16 of these 50 United States. Hence the significance of June 12th - Loving Day, a little observed by considerable day of remembrance, particularly for those with some connection to an interracial relationship, as Loving Day marks the end of one of the last slave laws that remained on the books in many Southern states.

Now, Loving Day is not named for the emotion loving, but fittingly for Richard Loving and his wife Mildred. Richard was white was Mildred was black, and when they were married in 1958 their home state of Virginia was one of those 16 that considered the two of them being together just plain criminal.

Now, for a lot of you youngsters raised in a multicultural society I'm sure it's hard to believe people could get so bent that actually write laws restricting affairs of the heart. But interracial marriage was once a severely odious concept.

In 1912, Congressman Seaborn Roddenberry of Georgia tried to introduce an amendment to the Constitution banning such unions. To his colleagues in Congress he lectured: It is contrary and adverse to every sentiment to pure American spirit; 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? But I digress.

The Lovings spent time in jail for the high crime of being married to each other, were forced to move from Virginia, and then on June 12th of 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Lovings' criminal conviction and struck down all laws against interracial marriage.

Though their only desire was to spend a lifetime together, sadly it was not meant to be for the Lovings. Richard was killed in a 1975 car accident; Mildred passed away on May 2nd of this year. Well, they're together again now.

For millions of mixed race couples and their families, this Loving Day is one to be particularly celebrated. It arrives on the heels of history and is personified in Barack Obama's candidacy. Forty-one years after the laws were struck down, just 41 years, and now the son of a relationship once considered contrary to every sentiment of pure American spirit is one step removed from the American people placing him into the highest office in the land.

INSKEEP: Commentator John Ridley.

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Loving Decision: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions

Richard Loving with his arm around his wife, Mildred i i

hide captionRichard and Mildred Loving gave their name to the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down anti-miscegenation laws in more than a dozen states.

Bettmann/Corbis
Richard Loving with his arm around his wife, Mildred

Richard and Mildred Loving gave their name to the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down anti-miscegenation laws in more than a dozen states.

Bettmann/Corbis

The Movies and 'Loving'

Richard Loving with his son Donald in 1965. i i

hide captionRichard Loving poses with his son, Donald, in 1965.

Grey Villet/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Richard Loving with his son Donald in 1965.

Richard Loving poses with his son, Donald, in 1965.

Grey Villet/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Michele Norris looks through a scrapbook with Bernard Cohen i i

hide captionBernard Cohen and Michele Norris examine a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about the case. Cohen, now retired, was one of two lawyers who argued the Loving case before the Supreme Court.

Melissa Gray, NPR
Michele Norris looks through a scrapbook with Bernard Cohen

Bernard Cohen and Michele Norris examine a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about the case. Cohen, now retired, was one of two lawyers who argued the Loving case before the Supreme Court.

Melissa Gray, NPR
A newspaper clipping of the Lovings from the Miami Herald dated January 28, 1965 i i

hide captionThe Lovings made front-page news around the country and were featured in magazines such as Newsweek and Life.

Melissa Gray. NPR
A newspaper clipping of the Lovings from the Miami Herald dated January 28, 1965

The Lovings made front-page news around the country and were featured in magazines such as Newsweek and Life.

Melissa Gray. NPR
Bryan Walker, Anna Blazer, and their two children, Brianna and Brandon i i

hide captionBryan Walker, Anna Blazer and their two children, Brianna and Brandon, live just miles from the Caroline County courthouse. They have endured sneers, taunts and even violence from strangers.

Courtesy of Anna Blazer
Bryan Walker, Anna Blazer, and their two children, Brianna and Brandon

Bryan Walker, Anna Blazer and their two children, Brianna and Brandon, live just miles from the Caroline County courthouse. They have endured sneers, taunts and even violence from strangers.

Courtesy of Anna Blazer

This week marks the 40th anniversary of a seminal moment in the civil rights movement: the legalization of interracial marriage. But the couple at the heart of the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia never intended to be in the spotlight.

On June 12, 1967, the nation's highest court voted unanimously to overturn the conviction of Richard and Mildred Loving, a young interracial couple from rural Caroline County, Va.

That decision struck down the anti-miscegenation laws — written to prevent the mixing of the races — that were on the books at the time in more than a dozen states, including Virginia.

'They Just Were in Love'

Richard Loving was white; his wife, Mildred, was black. In 1958, they went to Washington, D.C. — where interracial marriage was legal — to get married. But when they returned home, they were arrested, jailed and banished from the state for 25 years for violating the state's Racial Integrity Act.

To avoid jail, the Lovings agreed to leave Virginia and relocate to Washington.

For five years, the Lovings lived in Washington, where Richard worked as a bricklayer. The couple had three children. Yet they longed to return home to their family and friends in Caroline County.

That's when the couple contacted Bernard Cohen, a young attorney who was volunteering at the ACLU. They requested that Cohen ask the Caroline County judge to reconsider his decision.

"They were very simple people, who were not interested in winning any civil rights principle," Cohen, now retired, tells Michele Norris.

"They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom. When I told Richard that this case was, in all likelihood, going to go to the Supreme Court of the United States, he became wide-eyed and his jaw dropped," Cohen recalls.

Road to the High Court

Cohen and another lawyer challenged the Lovings' conviction, but the original judge in the case upheld his decision. Judge Leon Bazile wrote: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. ... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

As Cohen predicted, the case moved all the way up to the Supreme Court, where the young ACLU attorney made a vivid and personal argument:

"The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that if should they not wake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them. They have the right to be secure in knowing that, if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security benefits. All of these are denied to them, and they will not be denied to them if the whole anti-miscegenistic scheme of Virginia... [is] found unconstitutional."

After the ruling — now known as the "Loving Decision" — the family, which had already quietly moved back to Virginia, finally returned home to Caroline County.

But their time together was cut short: Richard Loving died in a car crash in 1975. Mildred Loving, who never remarried, still lives in Caroline County in the house that Richard built. She politely refuses to give interviews.

Interracial Couples Today

Since that ruling 40 years ago, interracial marriage has become more common, but remains relatively rare. Sociologists estimate that 7 percent of the nation's 59 million marriages are mixed-race couplings.

And even now, interracial marriage remains a source of quiet debate over questions of identity, assimilation and acceptance.

Take Anna Blazer and Bryan Walker, for instance. The white woman and her black husband, with their two young children, live just miles from the Caroline County courthouse. Donald Loving, a grandson of Richard and Mildred Loving, introduced the couple when they were teenagers.

Blazer, now 23, says her family was initially wary of her then-boyfriend because of his race.

"My mom was a little weird with it, because he used to wear this really long — they call it bling-bling — he used to wear a bling-bling cross around his neck and baggy pants. And I don't know, she just kind of looked at him kind of funny when she first met him," Blazer remembers.

But over the years her mother has warmed to Walker, 21.

Blazer says that although many things have changed since the days of anti-miscegenation laws, life is still difficult for them in Caroline County. The couple endures sneers, sideways glances and more from strangers.

"Just a couple of months ago... Bryan got beat up in the Wal-Mart parking lot because he was with me and my sister, and these white men came up to him and they were yelling. The guy ripped off his shirt. He had racial slurs all over him...and they just started going at it," Blazer says.

"I think my life would be a whole lot easier if I was with a white man. And Bryan feels the same way, but he loves me. He really does. And we are meant to be together," Blazer says.

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