Each Black History Month I strive to learn something new – about a person, a group or more recently, an in depth-study into the landmark Loving vs Virginia Supreme Court case ruling unanimously that state laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
Richard and Mildred Loving were legally married in Washington, D.C. in June 1958 and just five weeks into their newlywed bliss they were awakened from their bed at 2 a.m. and arrested by the local sheriff for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law that deemed interracial marriages a felony. The couple pled guilty and were later sentenced to one year in prison. Their sentence was suspended under the condition that they would leave behind their home, family and community and not return together for 25 years.
The couple complied and left to raise their three children in Washington D.C. where they could live and love unprosecuted.
Mildred Loving wrote to the U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy asking for his help. They were referred by Kennedy to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where they were represented by two young and ambitious lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop. Neither had ever presented a case of this magnitude. Cohen and Hirschkop filed a motion with Judge Bazile asking that the Lovings’ conviction be vacated and their sentences dismissed. Judge Bazile refused, citing “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…”
After a second appeal their case made it before The Supreme Court in April 1967, unanimously ruling in Loving v. Virginia that Virginia’s interracial marriage law violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Although this landmark case sparked great progress for the civil rights desegregation efforts by striking down laws banning interracial marriage across 16 states, it wasn’t until 2000 that Alabama removed an anti-miscegenation statue from their constitution.
“Loving Day” is observed as an unofficial holiday on June 12th to celebrate multicultural families, the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling. The biographical film “Loving” was released in 2016 and received three major award nominations.
This historic and beautiful triumph of Richard and Mildred Loving has special meaning to me and my family as my own marriage to my husband of Ukrainian-Jewish heritage would be deemed a crime if not for the Lovings.
I’m happy to be a part of Brkthru – an organization that celebrates diversity in such a positive way and provides supportive care, open communication, trust and contribution across our team and partnerships.
Jazz Wolk is a Director of Client Success and member of the Brkthru D&I Team