Hidden Histories: Virginia Is For Lovers But Not Loving

Virginia Is For Lovers But Not Loving

lovings

by Jack R. Johnson

 

Virginia’s motto may be Virginia is for lovers, but for a long time there was a qualifier to that happy phrase. You had to be of the same race. In fact, it wasn’t until as late as 1958 that the case that made interracial marriages illegal in Virginia was thrown out.

 

Two Supreme Court cases operate as bookends for the story of interracial marriage in the United States. The first case that established the legality of so called interracial laws was Pace vs. Alabama. In this case, a young interracial couple from Alabma were not allowed to marry and thus were formally charged with living together “in a state of adultery or fornication” and both sentenced to two years imprisonment in the state penitentiary in 1882. They appealed to the Alabama Supreme court and lost with the court writing that
“The evil tendency of the crime [of adultery or fornication] is greater when committed between persons of the two races … Its result may be the amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound policy affecting the highest interests of society and government.”

 

–Yes, they really wrote that.

The Pace decision operated as the basis for other discriminatory laws based across the country. In 1924 the state of Virginia passed the infamous Racial Integrity Act that  required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and felonized marriage between white persons and non-white persons.

It wasn’t until three quarters of a century later, that the case of Lovings vs. Virginia  over turned The Racial Intergrity Act in Virginia and opened the way for legal interracial marriages across the nation.

Here’s the back story. Richard Loving was white; his wife, Mildred, was black. In 1958, they went to Washington, D.C. — where interracial marriage was legal — to get married. But when they returned home, they were arrested, jailed for one year that was suspended under condition that they be banished from the state for 25 years for violating the state’s Racial Integrity Act.

To avoid jail, the Lovings agreed to leave Virginia and relocate to DC.

For five years, the Lovings lived in DC, where Richard worked as a bricklayer. The couple had three children. Yet they longed to return home to their family and friends in Caroline County, VA. So in 1963 they contacted the ACLU asked for help.

According to Benard Cohen, the ACLU intern they contacted, “[The Lovings] were very simple people, who were not interested in winning any civil rights principle. They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom.” Cohen said “When I told Richard that this case was, in all likelihood, going to go to the Supreme Court of the United States, he became wide-eyed and his jaw dropped,”. For someone shy of the spotlight, Richard Lovings had a right to be hesitant. The case attracted massive attention, but in the end was phenomenally successful. Not only did the United States Supreme Court maintain the validity of the Loving’s marriage, they declared Virginia‘s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924“, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.

Ironically, still more fame was to come Richard Lovings way: A movie for television was made in 1996 dramatizing the story of the Lovings and the court case that made interracial marriage a possibility for anyone in this country. And a new movie, Jeff Nichols’ film Loving, based on the same story, is set to appear this month in theaters across the country.

 

 

by Jack R. Johnson

 

Virginia’s motto may be Virginia is for lovers, but for a long time there was a qualifier to that happy phrase. You had to be of the same race. In fact, it wasn’t until as late as 1958 that the case that made interracial marriages illegal in Virginia was thrown out.

 

Two Supreme Court cases operate as bookends for the story of interracial marriage in the United States. The first case that established the legality of so called interracial laws was Pace vs. Alabama. In this case, a young interracial couple from Alabma were not allowed to marry and thus were formally charged with living together “in a state of adultery or fornication” and both sentenced to two years imprisonment in the state penitentiary in 1882. They appealed to the Alabama Supreme court and lost with the court writing that
“The evil tendency of the crime [of adultery or fornication] is greater when committed between persons of the two races … Its result may be the amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound policy affecting the highest interests of society and government.”

 

–Yes, they really wrote that.

The Pace decision operated as the basis for other discriminatory laws based across the country. In 1924 the state of Virginia passed the infamous Racial Integrity Act that  required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and felonized marriage between white persons and non-white persons.

It wasn’t until three quarters of a century later, that the case of Lovings vs. Virginia  over turned The Racial Intergrity Act in Virginia and opened the way for legal interracial marriages across the nation.

Here’s the back story. Richard Loving was white; his wife, Mildred, was black. In 1958, they went to Washington, D.C. — where interracial marriage was legal — to get married. But when they returned home, they were arrested, jailed for one year that was suspended under condition that they be banished from the state for 25 years for violating the state’s Racial Integrity Act.

To avoid jail, the Lovings agreed to leave Virginia and relocate to DC.

For five years, the Lovings lived in DC, where Richard worked as a bricklayer. The couple had three children. Yet they longed to return home to their family and friends in Caroline County, VA. So in 1963 they contacted the ACLU asked for help.

According to Benard Cohen, the ACLU intern they contacted, “[The Lovings] were very simple people, who were not interested in winning any civil rights principle. They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom.” Cohen said “When I told Richard that this case was, in all likelihood, going to go to the Supreme Court of the United States, he became wide-eyed and his jaw dropped,”. For someone shy of the spotlight, Richard Lovings had a right to be hesitant. The case attracted massive attention, but in the end was phenomenally successful. Not only did the United States Supreme Court maintain the validity of the Loving’s marriage, they declared Virginia‘s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924“, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.

Ironically, still more fame was to come Richard Lovings way: A movie for television was made in 1996 dramatizing the story of the Lovings and the court case that made interracial marriage a possibility for anyone in this country. And a new movie, Jeff Nichols’ film Loving, based on the same story, is set to appear this month in theaters across the country.

 

 

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