On June 12, 1967, history was made.
Photo by Getty Images; Art by Tiana Crispino
Each year on Loving Day, we’re reminded that love should never be taken for granted. It’s a day that celebrates interracial marriage and frankly, love of all kinds because 54 years ago history was made.
What is Loving Day?
Loving Day is celebrated on June 12 and commemorates the landmark Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia that legalized interracial marriage nationwide.
Only a half-century ago, cruel and unjust laws prevented interracial couples from marrying in 16 states. But those racists mandates were overturned thanks to the power of a real-life love story that began in 1958. Mildred Jeter, a Black woman of African and Native American descent, and Richard Loving, a white man, met in their hometown of Caroline County, Virginia, and fell in love. But, unfortunately, laws banning interracial marriage existed in several states—including their own—preventing them from marrying legally.
The pair did find a short-term solution, however, marrying in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriage was legal, before returning to their home state to begin their life as husband and wife. Yet, the law in Virginia banning interracial marriage also forbade interracial couples to wed elsewhere and return to the state. So shortly after their wedded life began, they were abruptly awakened by police one night and taken to jail just for being married.
The Lovings were initially found guilty by a judge and sentenced to one to three years in prison—but the judge agreed to suspend the jail term if the couple left Virginia for 25 years, prompting the Lovings to start a new life in Washington, D.C.
The Supreme Court Case
Despite living legally in D.C., their time in the country’s capital was full of discrimination. With nowhere else to turn, Mildred wrote a letter to Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general of the United States, which then found its way to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who introduced the couple to lawyers willing to work on the case.
Denied appeal after denied appeal, the Loving’s case eventually appeared before the United States Supreme Court. In what is now known as Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court unanimously voted in favor of the couple and declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides within the individual and cannot be infringed on by the State.
The decision was made on June 12, 1967—nine years after the Lovings first said “I do,” and Chief Justice Earl Warren declared, “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides within the individual and cannot be infringed on by the State.”
The Lasting Impact
Virginia wasn’t the only state with anti-miscegenation laws at the time and the Supreme Court ruling denounced every last one them, allowing men and women to marry whomever they loved, regardless of the color of their skin.
On the 53rd anniversary of the Loving ruling, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian reminded the world that his marriage to Serena Williams in 2017 would have been illegal if it weren’t for Mildred and Richard. “Today is the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia,” he wrote on Twitter. “Without that Supreme Court decision, which was only 53 (!!) years ago, our marriage would’ve been illegal in Louisiana (we got married in the great city of New Orleans).”
Not only was Loving v. Virginia a victory for interracial marriages, but it also impacted the eventual legalization of same-sex marriages as well. Thanks to Mildred and Richard for proving to the world that love is always worth fighting for.