MarianWrightEdelman01

Marian Wright Edelman

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you concerning a problem we have.

5 yrs. ago my husband and I were married here in the District. We then returned to Va. to live. My husband is White, I am part negro, and part indian.

At the time we did not know there was a law in Va. against mixed marriages.

Therefore we were jailed and tried in a little town of Bowling Green.

We were to leave the state to make our home.

The problem is we are not allowed to visit our families. The judge said that if we enter the state in the next [25] yrs., that we will have to spend 1 yr. in jail.

We know we can’t live there, but we would like to go back once and awhile to visit our families and friends.

We have 3 children and cannot afford an attorney.

We wrote to the Attorney General, he suggested that we get in touch with you for advice.

Please help us if you can. Hope to hear from you real soon.

Yours truly,

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Loving

Letter by Mrs. Mildred Loving, June 1963

(June 30, 2016) In 1963, young wife and mother Mrs. Mildred Loving decided to write a letter to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy about a “problem” her family was facing. Four years later, Mrs. Loving and her husband Richard made history when their struggle to have their marriage recognized in their native Virginia led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia overturning the remaining laws in Virginia and other states that banned interracial marriage.

They first met in the early 1950s when she was 11 and he was 17 in Central Point, Va., the small community where they both grew up. They became young sweethearts, and in 1958, when Mildred became pregnant, they decided to get married. They drove to Washington, D.C., for their marriage license, and Mrs. Loving later said she initially thought they were doing that because less paperwork was required there. But Richard already understood something she didn’t: Getting a marriage license as a mixed-race couple would have been illegal and impossible in Virginia.

Mr. Loving may not have known how the state would treat legal interracial marriages that had been performed elsewhere, but five weeks after their wedding the newlyweds received a very literal rude awakening: Acting on a “tip,” sheriff’s deputies surrounded their bed with flashlights at 2 in the morning demanding to know why they were there together. Their reply that they were husband and wife made no difference. The Lovings were arrested, and Mr. Loving was held in jail overnight while the pregnant Mrs. Loving was forced to stay for several days. Both were charged with cohabitation and violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Under a plea bargain, in order to avoid a year-long jail sentence, they were forced to leave the state and were prohibited from returning together for 25 years.

The Lovings settled in Washington, D.C., and began raising a family there but quickly missed the small town where they had spent their entire lives. Five years later, inspired by the March on Washington and the wave of new civil rights laws, Mrs. Loving decided to write to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to ask if any of the new legislation would allow them to return to Virginia, even just to visit. He responded and suggested the Lovings contact the ACLU, where over the next few years dedicated lawyers helped take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court justices ruled 9-0 that Virginia’s law and all others like it were unconstitutional, and that the freedom to marry was “a basic civil right.”

Mr. and Mrs. Loving soon returned to their hometown with their three children. Sadly, their own happiness ended in tragedy in 1975 when Mr. Loving was killed and Mrs. Loving lost the sight in one eye in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. But the Lovings had paved the way for thousands of other couples like them who were marrying the people they loved. Thanks to God’s work and the Lovings’ love, my husband, Peter, and I were the very first interracial couple to be married in Virginia after the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Mrs. Loving never remarried and lived quietly at her home in rural Caroline County until she passed away in 2008. But a year before her death, the widow, grandmother, and great-grandmother sent another groundbreaking letter. This time, it was a public statement submitted just before the Massachusetts Legislature’s historic vote reaffirming marriage equality, and read aloud at a 40th anniversary celebration of the Loving v. Virginia decision:

 “When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married . . . My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.”  

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to  www.childrensdefense.org

Marian Wright Edelman

NNPA Columnist