Breaking Barriers of Love: the inspiring story of the couple who helped lift the ban on interracial marriage

Stephen Nartey April 28, 2023
Mildred and Richard Loving/Photo credit: Flickr

Interracial marriage was illegal prior to 1967. However, one bold couple turned things around and paved the way for its repeal in Virginia and other states in the United States. Though Mildred was black and Richard was white, the two decided their affection for each other was too strong to be impeded by Virginia state laws.

When the couple left their home to get married, many cautioned them of the repercussions – consequently, Mildred was arrested when they returned. However, when she was granted bail, the couple decided to take their case to the American Civil Liberties Union with the help of Robert Kennedy.

That was the beginning of the loving journey that compelled the courts to lift the ban on interracial marriage. The love story began when Richard was 17 and Mildred was 11; they were family friends until they started dating years later, and got married when Mildred became pregnant. The couple went to Washington D.C., where it was legal for them to tie the knot at the time. However, their fate witnessed a twist on July 11, 1958, when a Sheriff, R. Garnett, questioned why they were in bed together, following a tip-off.

When they were arrested for breaching Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, Richard’s sister bailed him out on a $1000 bond after having been kept in a cell overnight. However, Mildred was kept there for three nights. When they were taken to court following their arrest, the presiding judge, Leon M. Bazile, gave them the option to leave Virginia for 25 years or end up in prison.

They however spent nine years in exile, according to history, but the difficulty in adapting to city life compelled them to make periodic trips to Virginia. In 1964, Mildred drew the attention of Attorney General Robert Kennedy to their plight, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. The Union took up the case and filed a suit to have it reversed by the original judge. However, for almost a year, they never got any response, which compelled them to file a class action suit to the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia.

This time around they got the attention of Judge Bazile, who argued that there was a reason why God placed all races on separate continents – if such a marriage should be encouraged, it would contravene God’s original plan. This motivated the union to appeal the case at the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal, but, the court maintained the initial ruling. During this time the Lovings were living together in Virginia upon the urgings of their lawyers.

LIFE photographer Grey Villet had a personal encounter with Lovings in 1965 and appealed to give the world a sneak peek into their life. This is what helped the world understand the plight of the family and changed the phase off interracial marriages in the US. Their case finally made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. On June 12, 1967, the court unanimously ruled that laws banning interracial marriages were unconstitutional and overturned them in 16 states.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 28, 2023


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