The United States celebrates tomorrow the 50th anniversary of the legalization of interracial marriage thanks to a famous Supreme Court ruling known as Loving v. Virginia, which immortalized Loving’s love story.
Mildred Delores Jeter and Richard Perry Loving met when she was 11 and he was 17. She had black skin because she had African-American and Native American ascendants, while he was white because his ancestors were European.
They fell in love, she became pregnant when she was 18, and then they decided that the best option was to travel to Washington to get married and then return home to Central Point, a rural community in the southern state of Virginia where interracial marriage was banned By a law of 1924.
Five weeks after the wedding, on July 11, 1958, the county sheriff and two of his subordinates burst into the house while they slept. They surprised them in bed and, dazzling them with flashlights, one of them asked, “Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”
“My wife,” innocent Richard replied, who then showed the Washington marriage certificate they had framed and hung on the wall.
“That is not valid here,” replied the sheriff, according to the narrative of the facts contained in court documents and which have been reproduced in film and literature.
After spending a few days in jail, they testified before a judge and admitted breaking the law prohibiting interracial marriage in Virginia. Then the magistrate gave them two options: a year in jail or immediately leave Virginia with the promise not to return together within 25 years.
They fled their homeland and moved to a small house in Washington, where they raised their three children, Donald, Peggy and Sidney.
It came 1963 and the yearning became too strong. Inspired by the struggle of Martin Lutter King and the mass marches in Washington, Mildred wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who put his case in the hands of the Union for Civil Liberties in America (ACLU).
Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, two lawyers for ACLU, the largest civil rights organization in the United States, took charge of the case and brought it to the Supreme Court.
On June 12, 1967, unanimously, the nine judges of the high court ruled in favor of the Loving marriage and declared unconstitutional antitrust laws prohibiting interracial marriage, then in force in 16 of the 50 states of the United States.
In their ruling, judges considered laws such as Virginia’s were designed to maintain “white supremacy” and therefore went against the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that all citizens are Equal under the law.
The couple, who kept a very low profile, heard the good news on the phone.
The future, however, brought them a stroke of bad luck. In 1975, a drunk driver hit the car in which the marriage was traveling, killing Richard, who was then 41, and causing Mildred to lose his right eye.
The woman, dubbed “bean” for her thinness, died on May 2, 2008 at her home in Central Point for pneumonia.
A year before her death in 2007, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, Mildred issued a statement recalling her affair with Richard and calling for legalization of same-sex marriage, then banned in almost Two dozen of the states of the country.
“I think all Americans, no matter their race, regardless of their sex, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the same freedom to marry,” Mildred said.
The Supreme Court legalized homosexual marriage on June 26, 2015 in a popular case known as “Obergefell against Hodges” and which was legally possible, in part, thanks to the struggle waged by the Loving couple.
Fifty years ago, recognition of interracial marriage was one of the last victories of the civil rights movement, which had ended in 1954 with segregation in schools, and which, in 1965, Right to vote to guarantee the suffrage of minorities.
However, although the 1967 ruling ended anti-mistreatment laws, the southern states took some time to change their constitutions to allow marriage between spouses of different races. The last state to change their laws to allow interracial marriage was Alabama in 2000.
Beatriz Pascual Macias