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Loving Day Marks 1967 Victory for Legal Interracial Marriage

On June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a married couple named Loving – he was white, she was black. They lived in Virginia and had violated the southern state's law against inter-racial marriage. The high court's decision made interracial marriage legal in all 50 states. Today, the Loving decision is celebrated as an important victory for multi-culturalism and democracy. VOA's Adam Phillips reports.

With temperatures topping 35 degrees centigrade, it wasn't just the music that was hot at the 5th annual New York City Loving Day Celebration, one of several such events around the country.

Kathleen and David and their two cocoa-colored children were among the estimated 1000 people gathered under a big tent along New York's East River. The group included many interracial couples like them. "There are a lot of people who had to fight really hard so we can be legally married," says Kathleen. "We can own property, we can have the kids and we don't get hassled about it. We're normal now."

A normal life was all that Mildred and Richard Loving wanted in 1958 when they fell in love, married in Washington, D.C., and settled in nearby Virginia. Six months later, they were convicted of violating a state law barring inter-racial marriage. At the time, such unions were illegal in half the U.S. states. The Lovings' one-year jail sentence was suspended after they agreed to accept banishment from Virginia.

In the early 1960s, when new civil rights legislation was being crafted, Mrs. Loving wrote to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help. After a long legal battle, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision, ruling in favor of the Lovings on June 12, 1967.

The Lovings' determination and courage inspired Loving Day founder Ken Tanabe to organize these celebrations. "They were just normal people," he observes, "and look at the difference they made. And I think everyone should be inspired by that to make a difference in their own lives. That's what Loving Day is all about."

Madeleine Kanai, who helped Tanabe organize this year's event and is herself of mixed-race parentage, says that Loving Day is about both celebration and education. "I think the best way to inform people is by having a big party… and try to share with as many people as possible. It's just such a positive message… and such a wonderful combination of everyone's efforts and everyone's energies."

No one at today's celebration can miss the loving energy that emanates from Nadia and Dave. For this young couple, falling in love has been merely personal, never political. "We're just a couple," Dave says, "and it kind of just happened. Although I did learn that in 2000, [the southern state of] Alabama finally agreed to [remove the state constitution's ban on interracial marriage]. Being in New York City you don't think of these things."

Nadia denies that the couple ever gets "raised eyebrows" on the streets of New York. She said that might have been the case a decade ago, but adds, "now it's such an open thing and it's just wonderful to see!"

Dave chimes in with a laugh, "I think if anything we get people looking at us because we are having more fun than they are! It works!"

Rich and Shaqira – he's white, she's black – have noticed no prejudice in their native New Jersey. But Shaqira does admit to having had some initial worry. "It was just a concern as far as having children was concerned," she says, "if they would feel like they didn't belong or they weren't sure who they were. But there has been a lot of support, so I am not really as concerned anymore."

Rich says their respective families love their choice of spouse, "so it's cool."

The road has not been so smooth for Tammi and Victor of Boston, Massachusetts. She is white and he is black. While the two have been best friends for many years, they continue to agonize about getting married, due to her family's concerns.

"My parents [want to] see me with a socially acceptable white guy. They are worried about what other people think. Yes," she says, with a sad shake of her head, "we are in the year 2008, but some people just aren't there."

Loving Day founder and organizer Ken Tanabe agrees. "You might not expect people to put a burning cross on the front yard, but you [do] have… people who are against people of other nationalities, different races, [and] different cultures. And what we are trying to say is these things shouldn't divide us." He adds that while intermarriage may be legal in the United States, the fight for tolerance and justice is far from over. "We are trying to eliminate that low-lying prejudice that still exists, even though in may not be in the bright sunlight."