The Loving Story: a simple desire for equality

Posted by Alex Mintz

Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Loving, a black and Native American woman, contacted the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in 1964 with the simple desire to live together in their home county without fear of arrest and jail time. With the aid of young lawyers Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, the couple found themselves fighting for equality in one of the most influential Supreme Court rulings of the civil rights movement.

On Wednesday, Feb. 13, in the Media Room at Scribner Library, the Office of Student Diversity Programs aired the 2012 documentary The Loving Story, directed by Nancy Buirski.

The Loving Story details the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia: 388 U.S. 1 (1967) which ultimately ruled: "Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State. These convictions must be reversed." This case stands as a landmark civil rights Supreme Court decision and still influences current judicial rulings and legislation.

Richard and Mildred Loving were born in the same small town in northern Virginia, met each other in their teen years and eventually married in 1959. Interracial marriage was banned in Virginia at the time, so the couple traveled to Washington D.C. They returned to their hometown in Virginia and went about their lives as normal, until, from an anonymous tip, the police broke into the Loving's home and arrested them for intermarriage.

With the choice of a year in prison or exile from the state of Virginia, the couple chose to be exiled. However, living in D.C. proved difficult and Richard and Mildred found themselves sneaking back into Virginia to be with family and friends. When the underground visits became too much to bear, Mildred wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for help. Kennedy responded sympathetically, and referred the Loving's to the ACLU.

The ACLU paired the family with Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, who fought hard through many appeals and many courts to reach the Supreme Court. The lawyers appealed the Supreme Court with the Loving's case and won, effectively ending legislative racial marriage inequality in the United States.

After the screening, a short discussion ensued about the ACLU, racism, and equal treatment before the law. Several students in attendance pointed out similarities between discrimination against same-sex couples and interracial couples. The sentiment in the room was hopeful that a decision similar to Loving v. Virginia would pass soon for same-sex marriage in the Supreme Court. Several students observed, "It's all about love!"

"One thing that was powerful was the fact that the film showed how much they loved each other," one student commented. "To them, the whole case was more about simple needs and love than about civil rights." The story of the Loving's was not about fame or power, but about a very simple desire for equality that led to the Loving v. Virginia landmark case. 

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