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This Day In History: June 12th
Whether you have learned about the case in history class or watched the 2016 film, Loving, the story of Richard and Mildred Loving helped to jumpstart the process of dismantling Jim Crow laws. Their case was unanimously decided on June 12, 1967, and found that Virginia’s interracial marriage law violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Prior to the case of the Lovings, more than half the states in the Union restricted marriage by racial classifications. Due to the 1924 Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, interracial marriage was deemed illegal in the state of Virginia, and violation of the law could result in a one to five-year prison sentence.
Mildred Jeter, an African American and Native American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia in 1958. However, the Virginia residents returned to their home state and were charged with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation statute. The couple was found guilty of breaking the state’s laws against interracial unions and sentenced to a year in jail.
The Lovings were given the option to have their sentence suspended by the trial judge, but the agreement required the couple to leave Virginia and not return for 25 years. They relocated to Washington, D.C. but knew that they wanted to return back to Virginia. This led Mildred Loving to seek help from U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who was able to refer them to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In 1963 two young ACLU lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop filed a motion asking for the couples’ conviction to be vacated. Judge Bazile refused, and the legal team turned to Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals which upheld the original ruling. By 1967, the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court.
On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings and found that the Virginia law had no legitimate purpose “independent of invidious racial discrimination.” Chief Justice Earl Warren added, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”
After the case was decided, the two remained in Virginia and raised their three children. Richard Loving was killed in 1975 during a car crash. Mildred stayed in Virginia and never remarried. She died on May 2, 2008.