By their own widely reported accounts, Mrs. Loving and her husband, Richard, were in bed in their modest house in Central Point in the early morning of July 11, 1958, five weeks after their wedding, when the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip, burst into their bedroom and shined flashlights in their eyes. A threatening voice demanded, “Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”
Mrs. Loving answered, “I’m his wife.”
Mr. Loving pointed to the couple’s marriage certificate hung on the bedroom wall. The sheriff responded, “That’s no good here.”...
After Mr. Loving spent a night in jail and his wife several more, the couple pleaded guilty to violating the Virginia law, the Racial Integrity Act. Under a plea bargain, their one-year prison sentences were suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return together or at the same time for 25 years.
Judge Leon M. Bazile, in language Chief Justice Warren would recall, said that if God had meant for whites and blacks to mix, he would have not placed them on different continents. Judge Bazile reminded the defendants that “as long as you live you will be known as a felon.”
They paid court fees of $36.29 each, moved to Washington and had three children. They returned home occasionally, never together. But times were tough financially, and the Lovings missed family, friends and their easy country lifestyle in the rolling Virginia hills.
By 1963, Mrs. Loving could stand the ostracism no longer. Inspired by the civil rights movement and its march on Washington, she wrote Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and asked for help. He wrote her back, and referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The A.C.L.U. took the case. Its lawyers, Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, faced an immediate problem: the Lovings had pleaded guilty and had no right to appeal. So they asked Judge Bazile to set aside his original verdict. When he refused, they appealed. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the lower court, and the case went to the United States Supreme Court.
Mr. Cohen recounted telling Mr. Loving about various legal theories applying to the case. Mr. Loving replied, “Mr. Cohen, tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
May 6, 2008
Mildred Loving has died at the age of 68. It seems odd that she was only 68. Loving v. Virginia — the case in which the Supreme Court struck down a law that banned interracial marriages — ought to have been decided a long, long time ago. But it was not.