All of us who lived through the civil rights era should know about Richard and Mildred Loving and their 1967 Supreme Court case, brought by the ACLU, “Loving v. Virginia”. But perhaps we don’t.
Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, an African American and Native American woman, grew up together in rural Caroline County, Virginia. They fell in love. In 1958, they drove to Washington, D.C. to be married. Interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia, a violation of the Integrity Act of 1924. Not long after they returned home and began living together, they were arrested and charged. Sentence was suspended if they agreed to leave the state for 25 years.
The Lovings moved to Washington, D. C. but returned home for the birth of their first child, where they were arrested again. They were allowed to leave the state again, but warned that another return trip would mean long imprisonment. They lived in Washington, had two more children, and then Mildred — who wanted to raise her family in the country and near her people — wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Kennedy sent her letter on to the ACLU, and the landmark case was born. The Lovings won in 1967, and returned quietly to Caroline County, where they lived in the home Richard built. Richard was killed by a drunk driver seven years later; Mildred lived until 2008.
These were simple people, not political activists trying to make a point or challenge the system. Richard was a bricklayer, a taciturn man who reminds me of my Iowa Uncle Harold. Mildred was a wife and mother. She valued home, family, church — and her beloved, Richard.
This is a quiet film, like the Lovings, and a deeply moving one. See it if you can. In many ways it was acutely painful to watch, knowing that the civil rights of families like the Lovings will, as of January 20th, reside in the hands of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, and in a hard right Republican Supreme Court. The South has risen again, and what we the people have lost with the election of Trump is unbearable.