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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid