Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Loving Relationship

As many of you know, June and I married 60 years ago, in May 1957. But another young couple who were very much in love at that time couldn’t be legally married in Virginia where they lived, for they were of different races. The law against miscegenation was finally struck down 45 years ago this month.
Meet Richard and Mildred
Richard Loving (1933-75) and Mildred Jeter (1939-2008) grew up in Center Point, a small village in Caroline County on the eastern side of Virginia.
Richard was white and Mildred was of mixed race: African-American and American Indian. In Center Point the three prevalent racial/ethnic groups socialized freely, very different from the county and the state as a whole.
Their story is told in one of 2016’s top movies, the historical drama film “Loving.” Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian-born Irish actress, won an Oscar nomination for her sparkling performance as Mildred. June and I greatly enjoyed watching the movie in April, soon after it came out on DVD.
Then, earlier this year Loving vs. Virginia, a “documentary novel” by Patricia Hruby Powell, was published, primarily for high school students. I found it to be a delightful read. Powell’s story starts in the fall of 1952 and ends in the summer of 1967. Here is a picture of Richard and Mildred in 1967:
Richard and Mildred’s Marriage
Since they grew up in the same community, Richard and Mildred knew each other earlier, but their romantic relationship seems to have started in October 1955, about the same time June and I started dating. But they had to face issues we didn’t. For example, a couple of months later when they drove to a nearby town to see a movie, they had to go up to the dirty balcony, for that was the only place where “coloreds” were allowed.
By September 1956, when June and I were engaged, Mildred realizes she was pregnant—but marriage was not an option for them in Virginia. In January 1957 their baby was born—and Lola Loving, Richard’s mother, was the midwife who delivered her own grandchild. 
The next year the couple finally went to Washington, D.C., to be legally married there on June 2, 1958. (Marriage between blacks and whites had long been legal in D.C.; two years after his first wife died, Frederick Douglass legally married a white woman there in 1884.)
Richard and Mildred’s Troubles
Five weeks after their marriage, Richard and Mildred were staying with her parents. At 3 a.m. the Caroline County sheriff broke into the bedroom where they were sleeping and arrested them. This was the beginning of jail time, trials, and their “exile” to D.C.
In the summer of 1963, the summer when MLK, Jr., publically orated about his dream, Mildred Loving also had a dream. She deeply desired for her marriage to be legally recognized in Virginia, for she was tired of living in the city and dreamed of going back home to Center Point.
So, Mildred boldly wrote Bobby Kennedy, who was then the U.S. Attorney General. Kennedy’s office recommended that she contact the ACLU—which she did. Two young lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, took the Lovings’ case.
Even though they were still in their 20s, the lawyers took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in favor of the Lovings on June 12, 1967.

From the mid-1950s until his tragic death in a car accident caused by a drunken driver, Richard and Mildred seem to have had a very loving relationship (pun intended). And they paved the way for other people in love to be able to marry legally in spite of racial differences.


  1. It is interesting how skin color is divisive. In the land where I grew up, albinos were considered a source of virility and power, and to this day their flesh is frequently eaten by tribal or political leaders (cannibalism) whether they are dead or alive.

    Rather than skin melanin, it seems to me that the true divisives are culture (tribal mores), and religion. These really should be considered seriously when entering marriage. I had a list of what I would like in a wife, including international background, color of hair, height, work ethic, desire to raise a family, etc. But the top of the list was to have a woman who was devoutly a follower of Christ.

  2. Since GOD created us All in his image, we should All Respect that Creation and Not look at the color of our skin for Loving relationships.
    When you open us All up our insides and organs all look alike.
    This is a poor analogy of my feelings, but we are All equal in GOD`s sight.
    It was a shame that it took us this long to change our law on this subject.
    My 2 cents worth!

    1. John Tim, in Missouri (where you and I were born), it was against the law for whites to marry people of other races from 1835 to 1967, the year the Supreme Court ruled for the Lovings.

      Like you said, it was a shame that it took so long for the laws to change.

  3. The movie Loving was low-key, but enjoyable. That is, it focused on the story of a loving relationship that was quiet until they had to fight back to survive as a couple. The civil rights impact was not by the couple drawing attention to their relationship through demonstrations, boycotts or marches. I and other friends who have seen the movie were surprised that the husband (white, a simple working person with not much education) was not an advocate for legal change. He seemed just to have wanted their relationship and to be left alone. She was the one who had more of a sense of history and the potential importance in pursuing a change of law in Virginia. The civil rights movement and our whole country are in debt to her for that.

    The movie makes us see how she and he both experienced hatred on a personal basis. The companion story is the persevering action of the attorneys who encouraged them to file a complaint and who worked so diligently to win the legal case, against difficult odds.

    It was and is tempting to enjoy the story without any firm resolve to continue to work for civil rights for others still deprived, still threatened, still mistreated, though for different reasons.

    Thanks for bringing the story back to our attention.

    1. Thanks for your helpful comments, Larry.

      As you said, Richard Loving was a rather low-keyed guy that just wanted to love his wife and raise their family in peace. Neither of them were rabble-rousers, and Mildred was rather reluctant to get involved.

      But partly out of desperation Mildred did reach out--it took nerve for her to write Bobby Kennedy--and was much more outgoing in talking with the lawyers than Richard was.

      And, as you wrote, the ACLU lawyers are to be commended, too. The two main lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Phil Hirschkop, were both Jewish--who argued successfully against the Christians in Virginia who continued to oppose the Lovings' marriage. (That is sort of an embarrassment to those of us who are Christians.)

  4. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky writes,

    "What a sad episode in American history! I see bi-racial families almost every time I go to Kroger's, and I say a prayer of thanks to God. We’ve had to be dragged toward justice."

    1. But, thankfully, "the arc of the moral universe . . . bends toward justice."

      I often shopped at Kroger's in Louisville from 1959 to 1966, and I certainly didn't see any bi-racial families then.

  5. I appreciate local Thinking Friend Ed Chasteen for sharing this factual information about the Lovings' case:

    "The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that ruled unanimously in favor of the Lovings was also the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1954's Brown vs. Topeka, a unanimous decision that struck down school segregation.

    "Earl Warren, as Attorney General of California, had overseen the removal of Japanese-Americans in WWII and been appointed to the Supreme Court by a Republican president and considered a conservative. He led the court to two unanimous decisions that made America keep its promise."

  6. Here are comments received a few minutes ago from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Loving v Virginia was one case the court got right--and unanimously at that. The court had been reluctant to overturn laws against miscegenation so soon after the 1954 decision in Brown v The Board of Education, but in the fifteen years leading up to the 1967 decision, fourteen states had overturned anti-miscegenation laws; the laws were still on the books in sixteen states at the time of Loving. It was another important step in the right direction."

  7. My Sunday school class is currently reading "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (reVisioning American History)" by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. I am not sure where she sees the arc of the moral universe bending, but she is herself certainly bending towards justice. It is a bittersweet relief to see that the Lovings persisted, and finally got justice. It is beyond sad that God placed a couple named "Loving" on this planet, and they had enlist the ACLU in battle to win the right to exist in the United States. I wonder when the indigenous people of the United States will feel they have finally secured the right to exist. Anyone who has watched the continuing confrontation at Standing Rock knows that nothing is ever quite secure. The heirs to the people who resisted the rights of the Lovings have now put a Trump administration in the White House with radical plutocrats in Congress in hopes of blowing up civil rights and scientific governance, for they would rather have everyone in misery than have blacks equal to whites, or native Americans equal to anyone.

    When God tired of the violence of the world, he sent Noah's flood. Today, violence and the worship of violence are foundational to the American Empire. Meanwhile, another flood is slowly engulfing America's coastal cities, even as global warming is frying America's inlands with forest fires and airports so hot that airplanes cannot fly. Almost like a chapter out of Revelations, Congress waits for a Trump to sound, and for a chance to pour out polluted water unfit to drink, polluted air unfit to breathe, deregulated food unsafe to eat, and an end to healthcare. God's judgment is upon our heads.

    1. Thanks, Craig, for your powerful comments.

  8. Many Christians sincerely believed that laws against miscegenation were biblically based. Slavery was also defended using the Bible. These are cautionary reminders against using interpretations of the Bible as the basis for secular laws.

    1. Thanks, Clif, for your comments.

      The problem, though, is not that interpretations of the Bible are used as the basis for secular laws. It is that some of those interpretations, such as those against miscegenation and for slavery, are based on deficient theology. I will be writing more about this (bad theology) in my next blog article.

    2. Not very many Christians appreciate being told that their interpretations are based on "deficient theology."

    3. Clif, you are probably correct in writing that most Christians would not appreciate being accused of having deficient theology--but how else should we characterize theological views that justify slavery or separation of the races?

      It seems to me that most Christians of the South got by much too long without being called out because of their deficient theology.

  9. Facebook friend Drew Phillips, who is originally from Missouri and is now a minister in North Carolina, messaged me today with the following comments (and also gave me permission to post them here):

    "Thank you for your 'Loving' post. I, a white male, have just recently married an African-American female, born in Virginia. We began our honeymoon on the 50th anniversary of the decision and will continue to celebrate and educate.

    "While recently in Atlanta at the human rights museum I was convicted at all of the places Jim Crow had to go to keep people separate. However, I didn't see any laws about churches. I guess the law never really saw them as a threat."

    1. As I wrote to Drew on FB Messenger, that was really special for them to begin their honeymoon on Loving Day.