News / USA

Documentary Examines US Struggle to End Bans on Interracial Marriage

Richard and Mildred Loving
Richard and Mildred Loving
Carolyn Weaver

When President Barack Obama’s Kenyan father and American mother married in 1961, interracial marriage was still illegal in 22 states, nearly half the country. It wasn’t until the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 that mixed-race marriage became legal throughout the United States. The case that led to that historic decision was filed by an interracial married couple, Richard and Mildred Loving. Their story is the subject of a new documentary called The Loving Story that screened recently at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and will debut on HBO in February 2012.

It’s a little-known story compared to other historic civil rights cases, says director Nancy Buirski, a North Carolina filmmaker. She says she was surprised to find that no documentaries had been made about the Lovings. When she came upon footage of the couple shot in the sixties by filmmaker Hope Ryden, she knew she could tell their story from their point of view, as they lived it.

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter met in 1951 when Mildred was 11 and Richard 17. He was white; she was of African and Native American ancestry. They grew up in the same Virginia town of Center Point where blacks and whites had long mixed informally, despite segregation. Mildred later recalled what it was like.

"The whites and colored went to school differently," Mildred Jeter said. "Things like that, you know. You couldn’t go in the same restaurants. I knew that. But I didn't realize how bad it was until we got married."

In 1958, when Mildred was 18, she became pregnant. Because Virginia law prohibited interracial marriage, she and Richard wed in nearby Washington, D.C. Six weeks later, police broke down the door of their small house in Center Point and arrested them.

"I guess it was about 2 a.m.," Mildred recalled. She describes that night in the documentary: "And I saw this light, and I woke up, and it was the police standing beside the bed, and he told us to get up, that we were under arrest."

The Lovings were jailed and charged with violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. Their sentence was banishment, for 25 years, from the state. They moved to Washington, D.C. and had three children. But Mildred was so unhappy that, in 1963, she wrote then-attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, asking if new civil rights laws would help. He told her to contact the American Civil Liberties Union. Two young lawyers, Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, took the case.

In The Loving Story, Cohen explains what they faced. "Challenging the anti-miscegenation laws was the most serious threat to the white racists, and even those whites who were not racist, but were very pro-establishment," he said. "I looked at it as an unbelievable challenge for a lawyer, one or two years out of law school, to be getting involved in what was sure to be a major civil rights case."

Robin Lenhardt, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York, says other race separation laws were rooted in fear of blacks and whites becoming intimate. For example, she says, "laws prohibiting black and white students from going to school together were ultimately very much about fears of interracial marriage, about what some of the people interviewed in the film might call the ‘mongrelization’ of the white race. There was concern about preserving its purity, which is troubling on lots of levels, and comical, also, because so many of the people who professed to be white were mixed-race themselves."

As Nancy Buirski notes, the Lovings were quiet, working class people uncomfortable in the spotlight. When the case reached the Supreme Court, they didn't even attend the arguments. "And that wasn’t surprising, given how reticent they were about publicity in general," Buirski says. "They were a very modest, humble couple. They really weren’t doing this to change history. They never saw themselves as heroes."

Yet Buirski says they did become heroes through their sheer desire to remain married and raise their children in the place they loved. "Apparently they never disagreed about any of it, they were very much in love, and as far as I am concerned, they in some ways upend stereotypes, because they weren’t activists, they just wanted to go home and live in Virginia, with their families."

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Lovings and struck down the anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 US states that still had them. The couple returned to their Virginia town. Richard built them a home where they lived the rest of their lives. He died in 1975 when a drunk driver hit his car. Mildred died in 2008.

Since the Loving decision, rates of interracial marriage have climbed steadily each year. Today, about eight percent of all marriages and nearly 15 percent of new marriages in the United States are racially mixed. The anniversary of the decision, June 12, is now celebrated unofficially as "Loving Day" by some interracial couples and, increasingly, gays and lesbians seeking the right to marry throughout the United States, a cause Mildred Loving also supported in her later years.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid