Mildred Loving biography
SynopsisMildred Loving was born on July 22, 1939 in Central Point, Va. She was of African-American and Native American descent and--in marrying Richard Loving, who was white--violated Virginia's Racial Integrity Act. The couple were ordered to leave the state but Robert Kennedy and the ACLU helped the Lovings strike down Virginia's law in the US Supreme Court. Mildred died in 2008.
Activist. Born Mildred Delores Jeter on July 22, 1939, in Central Point, Virginia. The shy, somewhat soft-spoken Mildred became a reluctant activist in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s when she and her husband, Richard Loving, successfully challenged Virginia's ban on interracial marriage.
Her mother was part Rappahannock Indian and her father was part Cherokee. Throughout her life, Mildred referred to herself as Indian rather than black. Mildred's family had deep roots in the area around Central Point, a part of Virginia, which even at the height of the Jim Crow era, had developed a reputation as a place where race relations were fairly friendly.
The girl who was so skinny that she was nicknamed "Bean" was just 11 years old and attending an all-black school when she first met Richard Loving, a 17-year-old high school student. Quietly, the two eventually started dating and, when Mildred became pregnant at the age of 18, the two decided to get married.
Barred from marrying in their home state, the couple drove 90 miles north to Washington, D.C. to tie the knot. They'd been married just a few weeks, living in Central Point, when in the early morning hours of July 11, 1958, the county sheriff, acting on an anonymous tip that the Lovings were in violation of the law, stormed into the couple's bedroom with a pair of deputies.
"Who is this woman you're sleeping with?" the sheriff asked the startled Richard Loving. Mildred offered up the answer: "I'm his wife." When she pointed out the couple's marriage certificate hanging on the wall, the sheriff coldly replied, "That's no good here."
Richard ended up spending a night in jail, the pregnant Mildred several more, and the couple eventually pleaded guilty to violating Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which recognized citizens as "pure white" only if they could claim white lineage all the way back to 1684. The Lovings' one-year sentences were suspended, but the plea bargain came with a price: The couple was ordered to leave the state and not return together for 25 years.
"Almighty God created the races white, white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents," Judge Leon M. Bazile ruled. "And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
The Lovings followed orders. They paid their court fees; relocated to Washington, D.C.; had three children; and only rarely made separate return visits to see friends and family.
But by 1963, the Lovings decided they'd had enough.
The Civil Rights movement was blossoming into real change in America, and with a sense, perhaps, that this new era might lead the Lovings back to their old life in Virginia, Mildred wrote Attorney General Robert Kennedy to ask for his assistance.
Kennedy wrote back and referred the Lovings to the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.), which took on the couple as clients. The A.C.L.U.'s two lawyers for the couple, Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, appealed the Lovings' case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. For Richard Loving, the argument to be made was a simple one: "Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia." When that court upheld the original ruling, the case went to the United States Supreme Court.
On June 12, 1967, the high court agreed, unanimously coming down in favor of the Lovings, striking down Virginia's law and allowing and the couple to return home. "I feel free," Richard is reported to have said after the ruling.
Richard and Mildred soon moved back to Virginia, returning to Caroline County, where they built a home and raised their kids. Tragically, Richard was killed in an automobile accident in 1975, when his car was struck by another vehicle operated by a drunk driver. Mildred, who was also in the car, lost sight in her right eye.
In the years following her high-profile court battle, Mildred Loving did her best to put the past behind her, refusing most interview requests to talk about the case. A 1996 Showtime movie sparked renewed interest in the Lovings' life, as did a 2004 book, but Mildred continued to shy away from the attention.
"What happened, we really didn't intend for it to happen," she said in a 1992 interview. "What we wanted, we wanted to come home."
Still, there's little doubt about Mildred and Richard's legacy. There's an unofficial holiday celebrating their triumph and multiculturalism, called Loving Day (June 12). More importantly, the prohibition against mixed race marriages has been stripped out of every state constitution.
Mildred Loving passed away from pneumonia on May 2, 2008, at the age of 68.