Sometimes we tell ourselves that if we can just get through what may seem like the biggest hump ahead of us, then there will only be wonderful things waiting for us. But no one can predict the future. If I can only give you 17 years, would you still marry me?
Richard and Mildred were childhood sweethearts. They met when she was 11 and he was 17. Couples sometimes decide to do destination weddings, where the venue may be cheaper, the atmosphere more tropical, or a location just aesthetically more unique than a local wedding. Seven years after meeting each other, Richard at the age of 24 and Mildred at the age of 18, chose to have a destination wedding in Washington, D.C., only 80 miles from their hometown, Central Point, Virginia.
D.C. didn’t have anything tropical, nothing more or less unique than Virginia. But there, they were able to legally marry each other because Mildred was black and Richard was white. They lived at a time when it was just several years after the Supreme Court decided that it was unconstitutional to segregate blacks and whites in public schools; it was the 1950s.
A month later, in the spring of 1958, at two a.m., a light shined at Richard and Mildred while they were asleep in bed. Twenty-four year old Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks broke into their home to verify if they were violating Virginia’s code, which stated that marriages between “white and colored persons” are unlawful, and that it was also unlawful to go out of State to marry with the intention to return and cohabit as husband and wife. Brooks, along with two deputies arrested them.
Richard and Mildred got locked in jail. The county circuit judge, Leon M. Bazile sentenced them to one year in prison with the comments of, “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.” They were offered the option of no prison time if they promised never to return to Virginia, at least not as husband and wife, for the next 25 years. They agreed, moved to Washington, D.C. and got around the agreement by coming back to Virginia, to visit their family and friends, in separate cars.
For the next five years, the Lovings spent their lives in exile in Washington. In 1964, Mildred’s cousin advised her to write to then Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy to challenge the Virginia court ruling. Kennedy told Mildred to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union, and as a result, two lawyers by the name of Bernard Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop took the case to try to overturn the court’s ruling.
On April 10, 1967 the case was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. Neither Mildred nor Richard attended. Two months later, the verdict was delivered: a unanimous 8-0 ruling, stating that it was unconstitutional for states to ban interracial marriages.
The Lovings moved back to their hometown and built a place in Central Point, Virginia. In 1975, eight years later, a drunk driver crashed into the Lovings’ car, killing Richard and injuring Mildred which caused her to lose sight in her right eye. Richard was 41 at the time, ending his 17 years of marriage with Mildred. She never remarried and past away in her home 33 years later, at the age of 68.
On November 4, 2016, I invite you to re-live their story through the film, Loving which will be released in the United States on this date.