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Black History Month | Loving vs Virginia: A Landmark Case for Love and Civil Rights

As you further your deep dive into Black History Month be sure to check out the case Loving vs Virginia profiled in both a feature film called Loving on Netflix and The Loving Story, a documentary HBO max has made available to everyone with a cable account for the month of February regardless if they are an HBO subscriber or not. Loving vs Virginia is considered one of the most significant legal decisions in our country’s history regarding civil rights and dealt a major blow to segregation as it stood at that time. This case brought to light that there were states in America that did not allow interracial marriage well into the 20th century.  The inherent right to marriage was not available to people in our nation simply due to the color of their skin.

In 1958 Richard and Mildred Loving were ripped out of their beds in the middle of the night five weeks after being married while Mildred was pregnant. The charge was interracial marriage. Seriously. Richard was a white man and Mildred was part Native American, part African American and because of this, they were prohibited to wed. The state of Virginia was butthurt because this couple, excited to join forces legally as they brought their first child into the world, drove to Washington DC for the opportunity to legally marry in the country in which they had lived their entire lives. In exchange for pleading guilty, to marriage mind you, they would be set free without any jail time but forced to relocate from the state in which they spent their whole lives for at least 25 years.

They spent the next 9 years in exile, secretly coming back to Virginia separately to visit with family until Mildred decided she had enough.  She wrote to Robert Kennedy for help and he happily directed her over to the American Civil Liberties Union where she met with two young attorneys, Bernard Cohen and Philip J Hirschkop.  These two fine gentleman courted this case through all the proper channels until they managed to make their way to the Supreme Court, where history was made. Richard Loving wanted to court to know that he loves his wife and it is wildly unfair he is unable to live with her in their home state of Virginia simply due to antiquated laws. The Supreme Court agreed and declared that the previous laws prohibiting interracial marriage were not at all constitutional. These laws were from times when slavery was legal and in current times actually prevents children from their inherent rights to be seen as legitimate, inherit land, and uphold many other rights within the country in which they live. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “Under our constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and can not be infringed by the state.” The landmark ruling overturned the Lovings 1958 criminal conviction and struck down laws against interracial marriage in 16 US states including Virginia.

The privilege of being able to love freely is one that many of us take for granted. To love, marry, and bear children with the person of our choosing is a privilege that people in some first world countries get to enjoy. Not all, but some. In the case of America, it is thanks to this fine couple, the Lovings, and those that supported them, that we are able to legally marry whomever we wish. To have children with that person and know that if we as parents do our job and take care of business, our children will be able to freely inherit what we leave to them in the case of our deaths.  I beg you to take some time to view these emotional and important films and to celebrate the life and times of Richard and Mildred Loving. Their story is one of the most important in the history of our country’s civil rights.

Perspective

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