Hand color tinted photo of Mildred & Richard Loving with their children Donald, Peggy & Sidney
Mildred Delores Jeter Loving (July 22, 1939 – May 2, 2008) and her husband Richard Perry Loving (October 29, 1933 – June 29, 1975) were plaintiffs in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967).
The Lovings were an interracial married couple who were criminally charged under a Virginia statute banning such marriages. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Lovings filed suit seeking to overturn the law. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, striking down the Virginia statute and all state anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional violations of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Mildred Jeter was of African American and Native American descent, and Richard Loving was a white man. The couple met when she was 11 and he was 17. He was a family friend and years later they began dating. They lived in Virginia, where interracial marriage was banned by the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. When Mildred was 18 she became pregnant, and the couple decided to marry in June 1958. They traveled to Washington, DC to do so. Loving later stated that when they married in 1958, she did not realize their marriage was illegal in Virginia, but she later believed her husband knew the fact.
The Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 criminalized marriages between white and non-white persons. After the Lovings’ return home to the tiny town of Central Point in Caroline County, they were arrested at night by the county sheriff, who had received an anonymous tip. The Lovings were charged under Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law with “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.”
The Lovings pled guilty and were convicted by the Caroline County Circuit Court on January 6, 1959. They were sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for 25 years on the condition that they leave the state. They moved to the District of Columbia. In 1964, frustrated by their inability to travel together to visit their families in Virginia, Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU filed a motion on the Lovings’ behalf to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence, on the grounds that the statutes violated the Fourteenth Amendment. This began a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the United States Supreme Court. On October 28, 1964, when their motion still had not been decided, the Lovings began a class action suit in United States district court. On January 22, 1965, the district court allowed the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry L. Carrico wrote the court’s opinion upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and affirmed the criminal convictions. (He was later Chief Justice of the Virginia Court.)
The Lovings and ACLU then appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Loving v. Virginia, was decided unanimously in the Lovings’ favor on June 12, 1967. The Court overturned their convictions, dismissing Virginia’s argument that the law was not discriminatory because it applied equally to and provided identical penalties for both white and black persons. The Supreme Court ruled that the anti-miscegenation statute violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings returned to Virginia after the Supreme Court decision.
Mildred Loving said she considered her marriage and the court decision to be God’s work. She supported everyone’s right to marry whomever he or she wished. In 1965, while the case was pending, she told the Washington Evening Star, “We loved each other and got married. We are not marrying the state. The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants.” On June 12, 2007, Mildred Loving issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision.
Her statement concluded:
My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone, they have a right to marry. Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the ‘wrong kind of person’ for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
Mildred and Richard Loving had three children: Donald, Peggy, and Sidney Loving.
Richard Loving died at age 41 in 1975, when a drunken driver struck their car in Caroline County, Virginia. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident.
Mildred Loving died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008, in Milford, Virginia, at age 68. Her daughter, Peggy Fortune, said, “I want people to remember her as being strong and brave, yet humble—and believing in love.” The final sentence in Mildred Loving’s obituary in the New York Times notes of her statement to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia: “A modest homemaker, Loving never thought she had done anything extraordinary. ‘It wasn’t my doing,’ Loving told the Associated Press in a 2007 interview. ‘It was God’s work.'”