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Loving Day - a very special occasion to be remembered

By unknown | May 23, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Born in rural Virginia in the US in 1939, Mildred Jeter married her teenage sweetheart, Richard Loving, in 1958.

The pretty, confident Jeter had almost finished high school. The rather rugged, shy, Loving was a bricklayer.

The young couple drove 120km to Washington, returned home with a marriage licence and settled down in their small house a few kilometres north of Richmond in Virginia.

Five weeks later three men broke into their bedroom. It turned out to be the sheriff and his deputies.

According to the Lovings the sheriff shone a torch in Richard's face and asked, "Who is this woman you're sleeping with?"

Afraid to speak he did not reply. Mildred answered for him: "I'm his wife."

Richard showed the sheriff their marriage certificate.

"That's no good here," he said.

The sheriff was right. Richard Loving was white. According to Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, Mildred was not.

She was of Native American and African-American descent. The act only recognised people as "pure white" if they could prove an exclusively white lineage back to 1684.

So Mildred and Richard broke the act's prohibition on mixed-race marriage. A t the time Virginia was one of 16 states that banned interracial marriage.

They were charged with "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth".

Mildred spent several nights and Richard one night in jail.

Parroting the racial rhetoric of the day, the judge reminded them that if God had wanted people to marry across the colour line, He would not have created the races on separate continents.

In return for the suspension of their one-year sentence, the Lovings pleaded guilty and agreed to leave Virginia and not to return for 25 years. They moved to Washington and had three children.

When they visited their families in Virginia they did so separately.

The Lovings' case coincided with the high point of the civil rights movement.

In 1963 Martin Luther King launched a massive protest campaign in Birmingham, Alabama.

This, in turn, led President John Kennedy to introduce civil rights legislation. That same year King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington DC, in front of 250000 people, black and white.

The Lovings had their own dream - to return to their rural home in Virginia. The civil rights movement inspired them to act.

Mildred wrote to Robert Kennedy, the attorney-general and the president's brother. He referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Previously civil rights groups had been reluctant to take on the issue of mixed marriage, judging (rightly) that segregationists would resist this issue above all others.

But by this time civil rights lawyers had won a string of victories against segregation.

Richard Loving's advice to his lawyer was simple: "Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."

The court agreed.

It was not the emotional pull that won the day, but the fact that racial discrimination had now lost credibility in American jurisprudence.

The Lovings' lawyers argued that "when a law is based on race, it is immediately suspect and the burden is shifted to the state to show there is a compelling interest to have that sort of racial differentiation".

Soon the Lovings returned to Virginia. Richard was killed in a car crash in 1975.

A Showtime film was made of their life, entitled Mr And Mrs Loving. For many years, many mixed-race couples celebrated Loving Day on June 12.

Later in life Mildred Loving was reluctant to give interviews. But on the 40th anniversary of the case, she issued a statement calling on lesbians and gays to be granted the right to marry.

Mildred Loving, civil rights campaigner died of pneumonia on May 2 aged 68. - The Times News Service, London


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