Loving vs. Virginia original courthouse
Caroline County, Virginia Circuit Courthouse located in Bowling Green, Virginia.
The Lovings in 1967
Poster for 2016 film, "Loving"
The Lovings during a press conference in D.C. as their case was heard by the United States Supreme Court.
Backstory and Context
Richard Loving was born October 29, 1933, Mildred Delores Jeter on June 22, 1939. The two grew up and lived as neighbors in Caroline County, Virginia, where they fell in love. Richard was white, Mildred was of African American and Native American descent. They saw the color of the others skin, but this did not make them love one another less. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 made interracial marriage illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia, so Mildred and Richard married on June 2, 1958 in Washington, D.C.
After returning home to Caroline County, Richard and Mildred were arrested on July 14th in their home by Caroline Sheriff Garnett Brooks and two deputies. They were charged with unlawful cohabitation. The case went to Caroline County, Virginia’s Circuit Court which Judge Leon Bazile presided. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings were prosecuted and convicted of violating the state's anti-miscegenation law. At that time, Virginia's "miscegenation" laws banned marriage between blacks and whites. In the conclusion of this case, Judge Balize explained that "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." He sentenced the Lovings to a year in prison, to be suspended if the couple agreed to leave the state and not return for the next 25 years. Richard and Mildred left Virginia. However, after some time away, they grew to miss their family back in Virginia. Inspired by the civil rights movement, Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1963 for help. Kennedy referred the couple to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where Attorneys Philip J. Hirschkop and Bernard S. Cohen were assigned to the case.
The case came after nearly 300 years of legislation in Virginia regulating interracial marriage and carefully defining which citizens could legally claim to be white. Two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Pace v. Alabama (1883) and Maynard v. Hill (1888), upheld the constitutionality of such laws. The state of Virginia, and sixteen others who had similar laws on the books at the time, looked at these two cases to validate such "miscegenation" laws. And in 1924, the Act to Preserve Racial Integrity banned interracial marriage in Virginia while defining a white person as someone who had no discernible nonwhite ancestry.
In a unanimous (9-0) decision, the Supreme Court held that distinctions drawn according to race were generally "odious to a free people" and were subject to "the most rigid scrutiny" under the Equal Protection Clause. Therefore, the Virginia law, the Court found, had no legitimate purpose "independent of invidious racial discrimination." The Court rejected the state's argument that the statute was legitimate because it applied equally to both blacks and whites. The Court also held that the Virginia law violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. "Under our Constitution," wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren in the opinion for the case, "the fundamental freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State."
The result of this case saw an end on June 12, 1967 ended miscegenation laws in the United States and greater civil liberties and rights bestowed to citizens as they rightfully deserve. Life goes on outside of the courtroom, and another result of this case meant that Richard and Mildred Loving could return home, to Caroline Country and their family of three children.
Tragedy struck on June 29th, 1975, when a drunk driver hit their vehicle. Mildred lost her right eye, and Richard lost his life. Mildred continued to live in Caroline County until she died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008. This story of hope, perseverance, and love does not end there. Numerous books and two films, Mr. & Mrs. Loving in 1996 and The Loving story in 2012, have been made focusing on this story. However, according to Mildred Loving, "not much of it (Mr. & Mrs. Loving) was very true. The only part of it right was I had three children." In addition, June 12th is now celebrated all over the country as Loving Day. When telling of their parents stories now, without fail their three children describe their parents as never seeing themselves as heroes. Instead, they describe their actions and memories as courageous and loving.
The importance of this case can not be understated. However, a somber fact about it's importance and recognition of such is not fully expressed. Loving vs. Virginia was added to a plaque within the courthouse with other local important figures, events, and court cases as deemed by the court. That really is it insofar as a historical marker. Other than the plaque, only the courthouse itself could be looked at as a marker regarding this case for historical reference.