Loving v. Virginia is said to be one of the most impactful events within the civil rights movement. The legal suit had enabled those who loved each other to come together regardless of race and engage in a relationship.
During June of 1958, Ms. Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and a Mr. Richard Loving, a white man, had married in the District of Columbia, an area which didn’t enforce anti-miscegenation laws. Soon after their union, the Lovings resided in Virginia, settling in Caroline County. At the October Term of the Circuit Court of Caroline County, a grand jury had charged the Lovings with infringing the anti-miscegenation laws. This charge was on the basis of a Virginia statutory scheme which prohibited interracial marriage. The Lovings had been convicted of infringing § 20-59 which stated,
“Punishment for marriage.—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 nor more than five years.”
During their arraignment, on January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail. On this occasion, however, the judge suspended the sentence for 25 years with the conditions that the Lovings leave the State of Virginia and did not return together for 25 years. The judge had reasoned that,
“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 lawyers, a Mr. Cohen and a Mr. Hirschkop, argued the Virginia statute was illegal under section 1 of the 14th Amendment which states, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” During a testimony, Hirschkop stated that Virginia’s interracial marriage law and others like it were rooted in racism and white supremacy. “These are not health and welfare laws,” he argued. “These are slavery laws, pure and simple.”
Following their convictions, the Lovings filed a motion to vacate the sentences on the grounds that they defied the 14th amendments guaranties. However, after almost a year of waiting they had decided to escalate the situation and so they filed a class action law suit against the Eastern District of Virginia, stating the the anti-miscegenation laws within Virginia were anti-constitutional, and asked state officials to withdraw their sentencing. Three months later, their motion to vacate the sentences was denied. The Lovings filed for appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, and twenty days later they had been allowed to take up the case with the highest state court. This court had dealt with a similar case, Naim v. Naim, in which a white man had married a Chinese woman and been convicted of the same infringement. The court used this to argue that these laws were “to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,” and to prevent “the corruption of blood,”
After much back and forth between the Lovings’ lawyers and the state supreme court, it was decided that it was a basic right of man to marry, and that to deny a man marriage without due process of law would be against the constitution which states that no man may be deprived of liberty without this. This had been the closing statement of the Lovings’ lawyers and had also been the final testimony to the case as after this it was decided that marriage was a right of man, and a liberty which could not be denied without being anti constitutional, meaning that the convictions had no grounds to stand on. The law preventing miscegenation had been abolished and the convictions of the Lovings’ revoked.
This pivotal moment in the civil rights movement had been claimed to have been the result of cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, and one of the finalising moments after the abolishment of the Jim Crow laws which had lead to legal equality within the United States of America. The Lovings proceeded to live freely in Virginia until 1975, when Richard Loving was killed by a drunk driver while in his vehicle. Mildred Loving had survived the crash and continued to live until 2008 without remarrying. There has been a feature film made about the case titled “Loving”, and the story is highly regarded as one of the most important moments in the civil rights movement.
- Warren, E. & Supreme Court Of The United States. (1966) U.S. Reports: Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 .
- Loving v. Virginia, A&E Television Networks history.com/topics/civil-rights-movement/loving-v-virginia, Jun. 10, 2019
- 14th Amendment, https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv
- Loving v. Virginia, https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/388/1,