Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Loving Vs Virginia

1958 was the year I was born. 13 years after the Allies defeated Hitler and his genocidal, racist Nazis.

And yet in 1958 people of different races couldn't get married in Virginia or many other states of the USA. I'm amazed that I didn't hear about the story of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving until today.

As Wikipedia tells it:

The plaintiffs, Mildred Jeter (a woman of black and Rappahannock Indian descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man), were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June of 1958 in the District of Columbia, having left Virginia to evade a state law banning marriages between any white person and a non-white person.

Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's 18th-century interpretation of race, proclaimed that Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, and in 1963 began a series of lawsuits seeking to overcome their conviction on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, ultimately reaching the Supreme Court.

This week is the 40th anniversary of their victory, and Mildred Loving has released a statement:

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

There are those who will say that society today is too liberal, there's no respect for authority, etc. etc. - and sometimes they may be right. But this is a reminder of what the "good old 1950s" were like in the world's most powerful democracy. Civilisation has moved in the right direction....

Hat-tip: Halfway Down the Danube


Kim Ayres said...

Reminds me a bit of that old Not the 9 o'Clock News sketch where Gryff Rhys Jones was playing a Tory MP, saying something like,

"You know, one of my constituents came up to me the other day and said, 'why can't it be like it was in the good old days?' So I took away her pension book and shoved her grandson up a chimney."

Roger Green said...

Actually, I mentioned it in my blog on June 12.

Roger Green said...

In answer to a question on Halfway Down the Danube: while there were black people who some white Americans found attractive, maybe for decades, the idea of actual race mixing was problematic to some people well after Loving vs. Virginia And know that there are STILL black AND white people in the U.S. who think it's a bad idea.

Chris Black said...

Hi Roger - oops, sorry I think I read your post but didn't click on the link - and didn't appreciate what a memorable and important story this was.

The case has some slight echoes for my life too. I won't forget the day when a UK consul in St Petersburg who was deciding whether my wife Lena would be allowed back into the UK told me that I had been 'foolish' but that ' there were mitigating circumstances'

Anonymous said...

All in All, Richard Perry Loving is of Anglo-Celtic origin and Mildred Dolores Jeter-Loving is of African and Native American origin (Actually, Native Americans came from Siberia). Their children have three races. The three races are Caucasian, African, and Mongolian (Asian and Native American), they are like the three wise men.

Anonymous said...

Arlene Elshinnawy is one of many black women marrying white men. Arlene Elshinnawy was black and her husband is an white Egyptian. She went bye-bye and went Home to be with the Lord.

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