Loving Decision: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage in the landmark Loving v. Virginia ruling. A lawyer who argued the case remembers the couple at its heart, and an interracial couple in Virginia reflects on their life today.
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Loving Decision: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions

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Loving Decision: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions

Loving Decision: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


Forty years ago, thousands of Vietnam protesters marched on the Pentagon, race riots shook over a hundred U.S. cities. Ronald Reagan became governor of California. McDonald's test marketed the Big Mac. And on the radio, Stevie Wonder sang this song.

(Soundbite of "I Was Made To Love Her")

Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Singer): (Singing) I was made to love, worship and adore her. Hey, hey, hey.

NORRIS: Love, worship and adore her. But in certain places in the country, if you were in an interracial relationship, forget about marrying her. Anti-miscegenation laws, written to prevent the mixing of the races, remained on the books in more than a dozen states until June 12, 1967, 40 years ago, tomorrow.

On that June day, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, overturned the convictions of a young couple from Virginia. He was white. She was black. They grew up on the same country road in rural Caroline County, an hour and a half south of Washington, D.C.

In 1958, the couple left Virginia to get married. After they returned home, they were arrested, jailed and banished from the state for 25 years. Their crime: violating the state's Racial Integrity Act. Their names were Richard and Mildred Loving. And the ruling in their case is known as the Loving Decision.

Here is a full front page.

Mr. BERNARD COHEN (Legal Counsel, Loving v. Virginia case): A Mixed Couple Test Virginia's Miscegenation Law.

NORRIS: And there's a picture. There they are.

Mr. LOVING: There's a picture, they're sitting in my office, as a matter of fact, on my couch.

NORRIS: Bernard Cohen was one of the two lawyers who argued the Loving Case before the Supreme Court. He's now retired and living in rural Virginia.

We sat in his home office and combed through the family scrapbooks from the era. From the plaques on the wall and the yellowed news clippings, it's clear that this was the case of his career, front-page news across the country and featured in popular magazines, like Life and Newsweek. Each clipping told the Loving's dramatic tale.

Mr. COHEN: They woke up in the middle of the night to see the sheriff and five deputies standing around their bed, shining flashlights into their faces. And Richard Loving ran to the dresser where their marriage certificate existed and said, look, we're married. And the sheriff said, not in this state, you're not.

NORRIS: Richard said he never could understand why he and Mildred were arrested and convicted. There were other mixed race couples in the area. To avoid jail, they agreed to leave Virginia for Washington, D.C., where Richard found work as a bricklayer. They had three children, but they longed to be with family and friends back in Caroline County.

After five years in exile, the Lovings contacted Bernard Cohen. He was fresh out of law school and volunteering for the ACLU. Cohen said the couple asked him to ask the judge to reconsider their case so they could return home.

Mr. COHEN: They were very simple people who were not interested in winning any civil rights principle. They just were in love with one and another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without interference from an 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.

NORRIS: Cohen and another lawyer challenged the Lovings conviction. But the original judge was unmoved. Upholding his decision, 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 did move all the way up to the Supreme Court and as you'll hear in this recording from the court, Cohen made a vivid and personal argument.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. COHEN: The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night, knowing that should they not awake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them under intestacy. 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 the right to Social Security benefits. All of these are denied to them. And they will not be denied to them if the whole miscegenist, anti-miscegenation scheme of Virginia, Sections 20 through 50, through 20 through 60, are found unconstitutional.

NORRIS: Can you tell me about the day when the court rendered the decision?

Mr. COHEN: It was very exciting and it was victory, nine to nothing.

NORRIS: The Lovings, Mildred and Richard, their reaction?

Mr. COHEN: We had to call them and tell them, and they said, well, what do we do now? And we said, you just go on living, nobody's going to bother you anymore over this.

NORRIS: The Lovings finally returned home to Caroline County. However, their time together was cut short. Richard Loving died in a car crash eight years later. Mildred Loving never remarried. She still lives in Caroline County, in the house the Richard built by hand. She politely refuses to give interviews.

Interracial marriage is legal, more common now yet still relatively rare. When you consider all the possible combinations, sociologists estimate that seven percent of the nation's 59 million marriages are mixed race couplings. And mixed marriages, years later, still a source of quiet debate over questions of identity, assimilation and acceptance.

I wondered what life is like for an interracial couple now living in Caroline County. Every marriage in every situation is different. This is but one story.

(Soundbite of children playing)

NORRIS: Just a few miles from the Caroline County Courthouse, I visited with 23-year-old Anna Blazer. She lives in a Lakeshore Trailer Park with her husband, Bryan Walker, and their two children - two-year-old Brianna and four-year-old Brandon.

While Anna and I chatted, the two children took the light in a midday snack.

BRANDON: Ice cream.

BRIANNA: Ice cream. It's ice cream. I'm happy.

NORRIS: Anna is white, her husband is black, and as it turns out, they were introduced to each other in high school by Donald Loving, a grandson of Mildred and Richard. Bryan is a utility worker. Anna helps make ends meet by babysitting. She's blonde, petite, energetic and talkative.

We sat down at a picnic table in her backyard. And she told me about when she and Bryan first started dating. She was 17. He was 15.

Ms. ANNA BLAZER (In an Interracial Relationship): My mom was a little weird with it, because he used to wear these really long - they call it bling-bling. He used to wear a bling-bling cross around his neck and like baggy pants and I don't know. She just kind of looked at him kind of funny when she first met him.

NORRIS: And his family?

Ms. BLAZER: His family liked me from the get-go. He used to talk about, because I used to have braces, he used to talk about the girl with the braces and the bright, green eyes, and he used to tell his mom. And his mom came and picked me up and took us to Skate Leon(ph) for our first date. So the first date was kind of, you know, supervised, but she liked me.

NORRIS: Anna says her mother has grown to love Bryan, which she says things would have gone smoother had he been white. And she's not just talking about dealing with her family. She says she's endured years of sneers and sideways looks and people calling her a wigger, and I'm guessing you know what that means.

Ms. BLAZER: We've dealt with a lot of stuff. I mean, just a couple of months ago, Bryan got beat up. Bryan got beat up in the Wal-Mart parking because he was with me and my sister, and these white men came up to him and they were yelling, you know, nigger-lover and (bleep) niggers, you know. They were - you still have to deal with that to this day, yes, you do.

And I was like, shut up, who do you think you are? You think you're better? And my kids were with me, I did not care because they don't need to see that and Bryan was hurt. The guy ripped off his shirt. He had like a racial slurs all over him and they just started going at it. Other cars were coming. People were getting in the cars. Nothing was being done.

NORRIS: Did you sit down and talk to your children about that afterward?

Ms. BLAZER: We talked to them in the car on the way home.

NORRIS: What did you say to them?

Ms. BLAZER: Bryan just was, like, you know, they just don't understand. They don't understand that mommy and daddy, you know, they love each other. They don't understand. They don't like mommy and daddy to be together. And then, Brandon said, white men be mean. And I was like, white men be mean. It's all I could say. White men be mean.

NORRIS: You hear about something like this and there's a natural question. How far have we come in 40 years as a society? What's changed or what hasn't?

Ms. BLAZER: Some stuff has changed. Like, you know, of course, no segregation of potty rooms or bathrooms or anything like that. But the kids in this generation are getting it. The biracial children, they're going to get it because they're not really...

NORRIS: Now, when you say they're going to get it, you mean, that people will single them out?

Ms. BLAZER: They're shunned. They're shunned from white and they're shunned from black. The only kind they hang out with are their kind. The mulatto children stick together.

NORRIS: Do people use that term, mulatto?

Ms. BLAZER: Mulatto? Mm-hmm. They're mulatto. They're already starting -Brandon, anyway, he's four years old and he's already starting to deal with it. He doesn't understand. He knows his mommy is white. He knows his daddy is black. But he thinks he's white. And he says his sister is black.

NORRIS: Now, does he think his sister is black because her hair is longer and curlier or...

Ms. BLAZER: That's what I'm thinking. Like he wanted to grow his hair out like his sister's, my mother wouldn't have it. She wants me to keep it short. So I keep his hair short for her and I don't want him wear baggy clothes around and get comment. I don't let Brianna wear, you know, platform(ph) Jordans.

NORRIS: Air Jordan tennis shoes.

Ms. BLAZER: Yeah. I don't want to - I put her on a - I put her in sandals. I dress her like me. I would just rather her dress like me. And Brianna, I don't put her hair in corn rolls. She gets (unintelligible), she gets pigtails. I don't know if I'm raising him white like as a white family would, but Bryan has already made the comment that he just not want him going to Bowen Grade, he wants him...

NORRIS: Is that the local school?

Ms. BLAZER: ...that's the one with more black people, more black kids. He would rather them go to Ladysmith. And that's with more white kids. He wants them to...

NORRIS: Why do you think he wants that?

Ms. BLAZER: Because he knows it's going to be a little easier.

NORRIS: They might be more easily accepted by white students than black students.

Ms. BLAZER: That's - yes. That's what he thinks. But I'm not seeing it.

NORRIS: Can I ask a difficult question? Is there any fear on your part in that decision? That if they hung with the black kids too much that...

Ms. BLAZER: They'd turn into the black kids this day and age. Yes, I'm scared to death. I know that might be racial on my part. But how these black kids are raised these days it disgusts me. It's the same way for the white, I mean...

NORRIS: Now, you realize, though, that you sound a bit like those men who confronted your husband at the parking lot...

Ms. BLAZER: Yes. Yes. I do.

NORRIS: ...in the parking lot.

Ms. BLAZER: I do. I do. But it's just these kids in this day and age - the black kids they want to fight all the time, and I don't know if it's the parenting, but what I do know is that in this neighborhood, in this Lakeshore Trailer Park - and it might just be, it might not even be a racial thing, it's just how the kids are raised. So let me take that back. It's just how the kids are raised.

NORRIS: The laws have changed. It's now legal for people of other races to marry here in Virginia and live as man and wife. But it sounds like it's still difficult.

Ms. BLAZER: It is. I think my life would be a whole lot easier if I was with a white man and so - and Bryan feels the same way. But he loves me, he really loves does, you know. And we're - we are meant to be together. We're - we are.

NORRIS: That's Ana Blazer. A white woman married to a black man in Virginia. There was a time when their marriage could have landed them in jail. That changed 40 years ago, on June 12, 1967. On that day, the Supreme Court handed down the Loving decision striking down state laws that ban interracial marriage.

SIEGEL: There's a timeline of the Loving case and photos of Mildred and Richard Loving at npr.org.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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