A Loving Story that Virginia could not stop

Richard and Mildred Loving in the 1960s.
Richard and Mildred Loving in the 1960s.

In the 1950s, Richard and Mildred Loving seemed, at best, an odd couple — particularly in Virginia at the time.

Richard sported a crew cut, a thick backwoods Virginia accent and seemed, as his lawyer would later say, “like a redneck.”

Mildred, the woman he married in 1958 in tiny Central Point, Virginia, was half-black, half-Native American.  Both considered themselves simple country folks who wanted to live near their family and friends in the Old Dominion.

Virginia, however, outlawed inter-racial marriage in those days, one of 20 states who believed racism triumphed over love.

The county sheriff and his deputies rousted the Lovings out of bed in the middle of the night in 1958, right after their marriage, shining bright flashlights in thei faces.

When Mildred tried to tell the law that she and Richard were married, the sheriff laughed and said “not here, you’re not.”

He arrested them and Judge Leon M. Bazille bannished them from Virginia, telling them they would be arrested and jailed if they ever set foot back in their Caroline County home.

It took nine years of legal fighting for the Lovings to legally come home.  Mildred wrote Robert F. Kennedy, then U.S. Attorney General, and he encouraged the American Civil Liberties Union to take up their fight, which ended in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, struck down bans on inter-racial marriage in Virginia and 19 other states.

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the court’s ruling, which said:

This case presents a constitutional question never addressed by this Court: whether a statutory scheme adopted by the State of Virginia to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

For reasons which seem to us to reflect the central meaning of those constitutional commands, we conclude that these statutes cannot stand consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment.

Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

These convictions must be reversed.

It is so ordered.

I interviewed the Lovings in 1968.  Richard was a quiet man with a reserved manner.  He stood with his arm around Mildred, a striking, poised woman.  Their love for each other flowed from both. They were glad to be able to again live in their home state even though it took nine years of fighting to return from banishment.

Richard died in 1975.  Mildred followed in 2008.  An excellent documentary, “The Loving Story” appeared on Home Box Office in 2012.  I had a chance to see it that year and tears flowed as I watched their pain and struggle against the racism they faced in Virginia.

“There’s a few white, there’s a few colored and we all, as we grew up and as they grew up, we all helped one another,” Loving said. “It was all mixed together, you know, to start with, so we just kept going that way.”

“You know the white and colored went to school different, things like that, you know, they couldn’t go to the same restaurants,” Mildred said. “I knew that, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until we got married.”

It is still bad today?  Yes, sadly, it is.

Rob Neukirch and Michelle Morris owned Oddfellas Cantina for several year in Floyd and have shared stories about local racial attitudes.

Rob, understandably, got upset when one of our local Confederate flag supporters called his youngest son “colored.”  That word is considered an insult to African Americans and it should be.

I’ve heard racist comments in town when a inter-racial couple is seen on the street.

At a football game at Floyd County High School last fall, a man looked at scorn at a young white woman and black man walking arm and arm to the concession stand.

“What’s wrong with that girl?” he said.  “She’s shaming her race.”

No, she wasn’t shaming anyone or anything.  She was a student who appeared to be romantically involved with a another student:  Nothing more.

The shame comes when I hear racist comments in public places or see bigotry on “social” media sites.

A rise in white supremacist militia groups in America after Barack Obama became the nation’s first African-American President show racism still exists in our nation.

Bigotry, sadly, exists not only in dealing with race but also with gender.  The Supreme Court declared gay marriage the law of the land but we find discrimination against same-sex couples still wide spread, even in churches that promote intolerance over love, acceptance and the law.

Colbert King, writing in the Washington Post last year, said:

Legal remedies, while addressing the excruciating racial pain, didn’t deal with the enduring problem: the racism itself that caused the South to secede from the Union; that led state legislatures and governors to birth Jim Crow laws that sparked the KKK’s reign of terror; and that encouraged school districts and town zoning officials to institutionalize barriers against black citizens in housing, education and employment. And racism is still at it in the 21st century.

Blogger Karen Fleshman, a Diversity and Inclusion Strategist and Race Educator, wrote in The Huffington Post:

Experiences and friends I have made have taught me that racism is a problem in our society; in fact, it is the underlying problem to many other problems. The bad news is racism is entrenched in our systems, institutions, and culture and will take tremendous effort to undo. The good news is that it is a learned behavior that can be unlearned, but in order for us to unlearn it, we have to acknowledge it first.

Sadly, too many Americans don’t learn from their mistakes.

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