Mildred (& Richard) Loving
"I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry." -Mildred Loving
Newlyweds Mildred Jeter Loving, a black woman, and Richard Perry Loving, a white man, were arrested in their home on June 14, 1958 after twelve days of marriage. The couple was in violation of the anti-miscegenation statute, which prohibited interracial marriage in Virginia. Anti-miscegenation laws were established in the colonial days to “preserve the purity of the races”. At the time of the arrest, Virginia was one of 24 states that still honored these ideas.
The couple had traveled to Washington DC to marry, violating a law that prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia. Rumors of their marriage spread quickly and caught the attention of the local sheriff. The couple was startled in the early hours of June 14 with a police raid on their home. They were arrested on the spot.
Richard and Mildred Loving refused to divorce and pled guilty to felony charges. They were sentenced to one year in prison, but were released under an agreement to leave the state and never return home together.
The couple moved to Washington, DC, but were unable to adapt to their new life. They felt isolated and struggled financially. Richard and Mildred never stopped feeling homesick for their family and friends. The couple eventually had three children, but continued to feel isolated under exile.
In 1964, The couple wrote to Attorney General of the United States, Robert Kennedy about their problem and he put them in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union who agreed to take their case. The ACLU assigned Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, who filed a motion to vacate the criminal judgments on the grounds that the Virginia miscegenation statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The attorneys brought a class action suit to the State of Virginia, which prompted the assigned county court judge issue a ruling on the long-pending motion to vacate.
Still protected by the ACLU, Richard and Mildred decided to appeal to the US Supreme Court. On June 12, 1967 the case went before the court and a unanimous decision was made legalize interracial marriages in all states. The unanimous ruling read: “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state. These convictions must be reversed. It is so ordered.” Richard and Mildred Loving finally returned home after nine years of exile.
Eight years later, Richard and Mildred were hit by a drunk driver while driving home on a Saturday night. Sadly, Richard was killed. Mildred lived the rest of her life surrounded by family and friends in the home her husband built for her.
For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.