A “Loving” 40th Anniversary
Posted by Shaun Dawson on June 13, 2007
Virginia Statue 1942
Sec. 4546. Marriage of a white person with a colored person; how punished.–If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one year nor more than five years.
Virginia was the first state (in 1662) to make it illegal for a colored person to marry a white person. Between 1913-1947 a total of 30 states had laws against interracial marriage. As late as 1966 such laws were still valid in 17 states, including Virginia. In 1967 the Supreme Court struck down any remaining laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
The Supreme Court decision came as a result of a case brought before it, Loving v. Virginia, which challenged Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” This Act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and felonized marriage between “white persons” and non-white persons.
Mildred Jeter (a black woman) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man) both from Central Point, Caroline County, Virginia, left the state in June 1958 to be married in Washington DC because mixed marriages were unlawful in that state. Upon their return to Virginia they were both arrested, charged with violating the state’s Racial Integrity Act. They both escaped jail time but were banished from the state for 25 years. They lived in Washington DC for 5 years before contacting Bernard Cohen, a young attorney who was volunteering at the ACLU. They asked him to see if the judge who banished them would reconsider his decision.
“They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom. When I told Richard that this case was, in all likelihood, going to go to the Supreme Court of the United States, he became wide-eyed and his jaw dropped,” Cohen recalls.
Cohen and another lawyer challenged the Lovings’ conviction, but the original judge in the case upheld his decision. Judge Leon Bazile wrote:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
The case did eventually reach the Supreme Court and the unanimous decision known as the “Loving Decision” struck down the anti-miscegenation statutes of Virginia and 16 other states, erasing the last of such statues in the United States of America. Chief Justice Earl Warren writes:
Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. 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.
June 12th is Loving Day and this year, 2007, is the 40th anniversary of that Supreme Court decision.