Race, Civil Rights and Love

Race, Love and Hope for All of Us

Posted Feb 14, 2012

It's easy to celebrate the seductive side of love—passion, romance, closeness. These are all wonderful things, but the power of love is often overlooked or addressed superficially. Love is about family and commitment, and it can bring people together despite the greatest of pressues to do otherwise. While our space here is a blog on divorce, we need to keep an eye on the glue that can hold families together - despite everything.

Let's be Inspired today.

HBO has given us a good reason to talk about love—as in Mildred and Richard Loving.

The Loving Story is a recently released HBO special on this couple who were at the epicenter of one of the biggest civil rights cases in American history.

Mildred was African American and Richard was Caucasian. The Lovings were married at a time when inter racial marriage was illegal in their home state of Virginia. And when Mildred and Richard decided to move back home, they found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Their heroic struggle was not intended to break the institutionalized discrimination that threatened to tear them apart. All Mildred and Richard Loving wanted was to be married and live out the rest of their lives together in Central Point, Caroline County, Virginia. No, this is not a line written by a screenwriter in order to sell a documentary, it's the true story of a couple from Virginia and a couple of Lawyers from the ACLU who ended racially discriminatory marriage laws in 1967.

The story starts in 1950, when Mildred met Richard Loving for the first time in Central Point, Virginia. Mildred was only 11 when she initially met Richard, who was 17 at the time. Richard was a family friend and the two formed a close bond. In 1958, the pair wed in Washington D.C due to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a law barring a white person from marrying a non white person in Virginia. Upon returning to Virginia after the wedding, the couple was immediately arrested and taken into custody.

In 1959 the Lovings case went to trial in Virginia and Judge Leon Brazile had this to say of their Union:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The Lovings pled guilty, and were sentenced to one year in prison. Judge Brazile made Mildred and Richard an offer: they could delay their jail sentence 25 years—if they never returned to the State of Virginia. He gave them an offer to give up the place where their family, their history, and their love all came from, if they wanted to stay out of jail. The couple then relocated to Washington D.C.

Despite this incredible injustice, Mildred and Richard Loving really just wanted to be together. Mildred simply stated that the couple "loved each other and got married." Neither apparently cared about changing the law, bringing attention to the situation, or winning the right to marry. Neither had been involved in any activist organizations. Other civil liberties had been won through planned protest—such as Rosa Parks famous refusal to go to the back of the bus. Parks was an active member of the NAACP. Her actions were not an impulsive act of defiance, but a tactical maneuver to advance the cause of civil liberties.

The Lovings were never inclined to strategize. It was solely their desire to be together that compelled Mildred Loving to contact Robert F. Kennedy and ask for guidance. Kennedy referred her to the ACLU, and the ACLU assigned Bernie Cohen and Philip Hirschkoph to the case. When Cohen informed the Lovings that the case would probably go all the way to the Supreme Court, the two of them were absolutely dumb founded.Cohen told interviewers that the Lovings "...were very simple people, who were not interested in winning any civil rights principle." This went way beyond what they had expected or intended.

The case garnered nation attention and sparked both protests and cheers across the country. The general public was rooting for or against the Lovings, but the couple themselves simply wanted to stay married and live where they grew up.

In 1964 the Lovings filed a class action lawsuit against the United States district court. By 1965, the case was presented to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and Justice Harry Carrico ruled against the Lovings. Cohen and Hirschkoph, along with their counsel from the ACLU, and the Lovings filed an appeal of this ruling to the Supreme Court.

In June of 1967, the case was heard and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings. The vote was unanimous. The Lovings vs.The State of Virginia decision overturned all miscegenation laws in the United States, and became a landmark event for civil liberties. The couple resettled in Caroline County, where they intended to spend the rest of their lives from the very beginning.

Tragically, Richard Loving was killed in a car crash in 1975. Mildred Loving never remarried. She lived out the rest of her days in Central Point and passed away in 2008. The couple is survived by their three children.

It is easy to forget that freedom in marriage has been a hard and long battle. With our nation's divorce rate hovering around forty nine percent, thinking about a marriage like this really puts things in perspective.

Love has power and the story of the Lovings makes this point crystal clear. The kind of love championed in romantic comedies is warm, fun, and gratifying, but real love possesses a dimension that has kept poets and soldiers alike captivated from the beginning of human history.

On Valentine's Day (and everyday for that matter) we should celebrate love, and remember that it has the power to change so much, including our blessed lives.

HBO: The Lovings Story

First Aired on February 14th, 2012 9PM EST

Inquire for other showings.


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