Mildred Loving, an unintentional heroine of the civil rights movement, passed away earlier this month at the age of 68.
Mildred, a Black/Native American native of Virginia, along with her white husband Richard, were arrested in July 1958, 5 weeks after getting married in Washington DC. Their crime? Violating Virgina’s miscegenation law barring marriage between people of different racial groups. They plead guilty and promised to leave the state and not return together for 25 years. They eventually settled in DC and visited family in VA separately over subsequent years.
After struggling to raise their three children away from their families and the life they knew in VA, Mildred contacted then US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1963 for help. He directed Mildred and Richard to the ACLU. Loving vs. Virginia finally made its way to the Supreme Court in 1967 and the court struck down the last remaining segregation laws on the books. In a twist of fate, the same justice who wrote the court’s opinion in Brown vs. Board of Ed. also wrote the opinion in Loving vs. Virginia.
Mildred and Richard Loving were always adamant that they pursued their case not for other people but for themselves. They wanted to be able to love each other freely without government interference.
I’m always struck by the fact that in my parents lifetime (and only 8 years before I was born) it was illegal in some states to be an interracial couple. This hits particularly close to home for me b/c my partner is not Asian and we could have been illegal back in the day. Without the Lovings the world could have been deprived of Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, and the beautiful couple that is Heidi Klum & Seal. We’ve come a long way if you consider the fact that the current Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao would have been a felon b/c of her marriage to US Sentor Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).
Of course, many things change but many things also stay the same. During last year’s 40th Anniversary of Loving vs. Virginia, Mildred made a statement in support of gay marriage.