Loving v. Virginia, perhaps the most aptly named case in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, is often celebrated as a landmark decision that helped to shape our country by eradicating long-standing, discriminatory laws that barred interracial marriage. Based on Chief Justice Earl Warren's recognition that these laws violated the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause, the U.S. Supreme Court ended a nearly 300-year history prohibiting interracial marriage in various states. Although some scholars believe that the decision was too little, too late, there is no disagreement that the Loving opinion marked a major shift in the legal recognition of interracial marriage. Professor Kevin Noble Maillard memorialized this important moment: “In the collective memory of the United States, mixed race did not exist until 1967. By giving legal recognition to interracial marriage, Loving v. Virginia established a new context for racial possibilities in the United States.” The feminist judgment in Loving weaves together a heroic tale of love juxtaposed against long-standing definitions of marriage that were shaped by White supremacy and patriarchy.
THE STORY OF MILDRED AND RICHARD LOVING
Loving's outcome, striking down Virginia's anti-miscegenation law, is well known, but the details of the personal story and the long, difficult struggle leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision are often lost. Mildred Delores Jeter, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a White man, married on June 2, 1958. Mildred, who was called “Stringbean” or “Bean,” and Richard had known each other for most of their lives, as their families lived and worked in close proximity. Although the couple lived in Virginia, they were married in Washington, D.C. About a month after they were married, Caroline County Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks entered the Lovings’ home in the middle of the night and arrested the couple for violating Virginia's ban on interracial marriage.
As a result of their arrests, convictions, and impending punishment of jail or banishment, the couple fled from the only home they had ever known to live in Washington, D.C.