In 1967, decades before I was born, I received the most incredible wedding gift from two total strangers. They didn’t know that they were giving one of the greatest gifts I would receive, and little did I know that a small made-for-TV movie I watched in the summer of 1996 would have such an impact on my future.
Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were childhood friends whose relationship quickly blossomed into something more. They made the decision to marry in 1958, and went to Washington DC on June 2nd of that year to do so because they could not get a marriage license in their home state of Virginia. Although their marriage was legal in Washington DC, when they returned home – simply by now existing as a married couple – they had broken a 1924 law called Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act,” criminalizing any form of interracial marriage in their home state.
Roughly six weeks after they were married, on July 14th, police broke into their home in the middle of the night and arrested them both for the crime of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the dignity of the commonwealth.” Mildred was jailed for over a month and Richard was released after one night but was not allowed to post bail for Mildred. The Lovings were charged and given a sentence of one year each, but the sentence was suspended on the condition that they do not return to the State of Virginia for 25 years. For the “crime” of loving one another, the Lovings were forced to leave the home they had known all their life in order to be together. They moved to Washington, DC.
After years of being miserable being away from friends, family, and the home they had always known, Mildred Loving reached out to the then-US Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy – who replied within a month that he could not help directly but suggested that the Lovings reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union. On November 6th, 1963, an attorney for the ACLU filed a motion asking for the charges to be dropped, which led to the landmark case Loving vs Virginia. This case paved the way for interracial marriage to be legal in all 50 states – being decided by the US Supreme Court that all remaining anti-miscegenation laws (laws against “race mixing”) were unconstitutional on June 12th, 1968.
Loving Day is so much more than June 12th to me. I never intentionally set out to enter an interracial marriage, but when I met my husband in graduate school (in “Diversity and Oppression” class, no lie) he was a friend I could confide in and someone who shared the same goals and dreams as me. Almost 16 years later, we are still going strong.
June 12th, to me, is the day we gathered friends and family at Kiwanis Park more than a decade ago to celebrate our first “Loving Day Picnic” after reading about celebrations taking place on the East Coast. Our group of friends came from a Meetup group that we had started for interracial families and couples to be able to meet and support one another – and for our children to see families that looked like ours. We shared our stories of how we met, the challenges we faced raising children, the difficulties for many of us far from home and our community supports, and also shared stories of our love for each other. June 12th will always remind me of how blessed I am to live in a country that allows us to love who we want to love freely.
June 12th will always be a day celebration in our household because we wouldn’t exist as a family if the fight had not been fought for us. Our Loving Day celebrations have looked different over the years and have become much smaller gatherings at our home. Every year when Facebook reminds me of that first gathering all those years ago and I look at the pictures of how small our children were (one didn’t even exist yet!) and the changes we have all made over the years, my heart is filled with gratitude for someone I will never meet. Someone who didn’t know me but was willing to fight for herself – and for love – and, in doing so, fight for me and for my family.
I often wonder if Mildred knew what she was doing when she wrote that letter to Bobby Kennedy asking for help. Did she know the legacy she was creating? Did she know that because she was willing to fight for her marriage, that almost 15% of all new marriages in the United States are now interracial? Or was she just a girl in love with her friend that wanted to raise her family in her hometown?
Mildred died on May 2nd, 2008 – a year and a half after my wedding that was made legal by her actions. I hope she knew, throughout her life, that her fight was ours and that she was appreciated. My family and I thank you, Mildred.
Happy Loving Day.