As we reach the end of this, the shortest of the twelve months, we conclude the celebration of Black History Month and we put away the Valentine decorations and eat the last of the chocolates that were once held in a full, heart-shaped box. I was thinking about a way to conclude this month — perhaps, a way to combine the two celebrations. What came to mind was a story I heard several years ago; a court case from Virginia that went all the way to the highest court in our land, the U.S. Supreme Court. Here is that story:
Mildred Delores Jeter Loving was born July 22, 1939. She was of African-American and Rappahonnock Native American ancestry. Richard Perry Loving was born October 29, 1933, a white man born and raised in Virginia.
At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant. She and Richard decided to leave their native Virginia and travel to Washington, D.C. to wed, for in their native home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, interracial marriage was against the law (Racial Integrity Act of 1924). After they married in our nation’s capital, they returned to the small, rural town of Central Point, Virginia.
An anonymous tip lead police to raid the Loving home, in the still of the evening and under nights’ vale of darkness and found the couple asleep, in their bed. Mildred pointed to the marriage license they had framed and hung on the wall. This was used as evidence against them, supporting Virginia’s “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” law.
The presiding judge, Leon M. Bazile paraphrased the writings of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach who wrote: ” 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.” This antiquated and flawed theological/social statement was the main argument used against Richard and Mildred Loving and sadly, it was used successfully.
The couple pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year in prison. However, their imprisonment and criminal punishment was suspended for 25 years pending they leave the Commonwealth of Virginia. They did so, moving to Washington, D.C.
Grown tired over the years that Mildred and Richard could not travel freely in and out of Virginia to spend time with their family, the couple decided to take the matter to the courts. Much litigation ensued; from the local courts to the State Courts and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court. At long last in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Lovings’ conviction(s), “essentially dismissing Virginia’s argument that a law forbidding both black and white persons from marrying persons of another race AND providing identical penalties to white and black violators, could not be construed as racially discriminatory.” An excerpt taken from the briefings of Chief Justice Earl Warren’s statements:
“Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. 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.”
“The court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy:
There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.” (Information and material via Wikipedia; the free encyclopedia)
The Lovings brought three healthy and happy children into the world: Donald, Peggy and Sidney. In 1975, Richard Loving was behind the wheel when a drunken driver struck his car. He died at the age of 41. Mildred lost her right eye in that very accident. On May 2, 2008, Mildred passed away at age 68 of pneumonia.
How sad that love can be so complicated, especially when hatred is at the very core and is the ultimate source of that complication. St. Paul wrote to the people of Corinth the following direct and pointed words regarding love: “If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing…Love is patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense and it not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.” – 1 Cor. 13: 1-2, 4-6. I am sure St. Paul simply echos the very words of His master, our Savior, Jesus the Redeemer who was all about love, all about justice, all about equality and all about forgiveness.
We are all grateful, all of us, black, white, brown and all the beautiful shades in between for the contributions of such heroes as Richard and Mildred Loving, who, in spite of horrific odds fought for the right…to love!
May our efforts, however great or small also lead to victories that produce and provide freedom and justice, love and harmony, peace and joy.