In 1959, Virginia judge Leon Bazile sentenced Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving to one year in prison, to be suspended if they left the state of Virginia for the next 25 years.
The crime? Loving each other.
Richard Loving was a white man while Mildred Jeter Loving was a black woman. In the late 1950s, interracial marriage was still illegal in Virginia and many other states.
Jeter and Loving were married in Washington, D.C., in 1958, and then returned to live in Virginia, where they both grew up and had family. It was there that they were charged with “unlawful cohabitation” and put in jail.
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix,” stated Judge Bazile during the case.
This was a sentiment of many during that time when many states still had anti-miscegenation laws, or laws that prevented the “intermingling” of races.
It seems unbelievable that just 54 short years ago this was still happening. However, take into consideration that Alabama–the last state to repeal the ban on “mixed marriages’ –was still fighting interracial marriage in 2000.
So, what happened to the Lovings? They moved to D.C. to prevent imprisonment and, five years later when returning to Virginia to visit family, they were arrested just for traveling together.
The ACLU took the Loving case which became the landmark Loving v. Virginia (1967). The eventual outcome was a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional.
However, 16 states remained with state laws banning interracial marriage until Alabama in 2000.
The Lovings eventually moved back to Virginia to live their lives on their home state soil with their children.
Nancy Buirski created a documentary “The Loving Story” covering the couple’s story and fight. It is currently airing on HBO.