Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Interracial Marriage
In June 1958 Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Delores Jeter consummated their love by getting married in Washington, D.C., and became—appropriately enough—Mr. and Mrs. Loving. After their wedding ceremony, the young couple returned to the area where both had grown up, Caroline County, Virginia, to begin married life together. In July they were both arrested—for the crime of marrying one another.
The problem, according to Virginia law, was that Richard was white and Mildred was of mixed African American and Native American descent. In 1691 Virginia had passed a law against interracial marriage, and its updated 1958 version had been passed in 1924 and called the “Racial Integrity Act.”
The Lovings pled “guilty” to the “crime” of marrying each other and were sentenced to one-year jail terms on Jan. 6, 1959. The Virginia judge suspended their sentences on the condition that the Lovings leave the state and promise not to return for 25 years. The Lovings reluctantly accepted and moved to Washington, D.C. But they did not let the matter end there.
Hiring lawyers, and with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lovings began a legal procedure that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 12, 1967—after nine years of marriage—the Lovings had the relief and gratification of hearing the highest court in the land unanimously declare that their wedding was legal.
In that historic 1967 decision, Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that all state laws banning interracial marriages were unconstitutional. In addition to Virginia, 15 other states had such laws in 1967. Chief Justice Earl Warren declared: “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause (of the 14th Amendment).”
The following five newspaper articles are about the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court ruling. The first is a news account of the decision, the second provides the Loving’s reaction, the third reports comments from South Carolina’s attorney general, and the last two articles are editorials supporting the Supreme Court’s ruling.
This copyrighted article was published by the Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey) on the front page of its June 12, 1967, issue:
Top Court Voids Intermarriage Bans
Washington (UPI)—The Supreme Court today struck down state laws prohibiting marriages between Negroes and whites.
The 9-0 marriage decision came in a Virginia case. Fifteen other states have similar anti-miscegenation laws, however.
They are: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the issue to the Supreme Court on behalf of a white construction worker, Richard P. Loving, and his Negro wife, natives of Caroline County, Va. They were married in the District of Columbia in 1958 and returned to Virginia to live in violation of state law.
Chief Justice Earl Warren, speaking for a unanimous Court, said:
“We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause (of the 14th Amendment).
“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival,” the Warren opinion said.
“…To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the 14th Amendment, is surely to deprive all the state’s citizens of liberty without due process of law,” it added.
“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.”
This copyrighted article was published by the Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts) on June 13, 1967:
Mixed Marriage Decision Lifts ‘Great Burden’
(Washington Post News Service)
Alexandria, Va.—“I feel free now…it was a great burden.” It was with both relief and a self-contained sense of jubilation that Mildred Loving, along with her husband, Richard, spoke to reporters Monday just after the Supreme Court had swept away the Virginia law that held their nine-year-old interracial marriage to be illegal.
At a press conference in the office of their Alexandria attorneys, Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirshkop, the young couple from Caroline County, Va., said the worst of the ordeal was the waiting.
Mrs. Loving, an attractive, slender 27-year-old who is part Negro and part American Indian, said she never had any doubt that the Supreme Court would eventually uphold their 1958 marriage.
Not so for her white husband. Asked how he reacted when his attorneys telephoned the news shortly after the court’s decision, the stocky, ruddy-faced construction worker said, “I don’t know, it feels so great…but it’s hard to believe. I still don’t believe it.”
The 33-year-old Loving, who like his wife was born near their present home between Fredericksburg and Richmond, said they haven’t encountered any hostility in the community during their protracted court battle.
This copyrighted article was published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on June 13, 1967:
Race Laws ‘Knocked off Books’—McLeod
Columbia (UPI)—State Atty. Gen. Daniel R. McLeod said Monday the Supreme Court ruling against a Virginia law barring Negro-white marriages would “appear to knock South Carolina’s laws right off the books.”
McLeod said, however, that it was his belief that the Supreme Court ruling would not affect other areas of the law such as adoptions and incest.
The high court ruled in a 9-0 decision that Virginia’s law barring marriage between Negroes and whites violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
South Carolina’s anti-miscegenation laws have been on the books at least since the 1895 state constitution—maybe longer.
“I can’t find any statutes before the 1895 constitution, although they probably had some,” McLeod said.
The attorney general said South Carolina’s law would probably be left on the books, in the absence of a test case, but not enforced.
He said the ruling would help South Carolina in a way.
“We always had to make decisions about what races could intermarry and which couldn’t,” McLeod said. “We’ve ruled, for instance, that a Filipino is a Caucasian.
“We had an Eskimo once who wanted to get married in South Carolina,” he said. “Never could get that straightened out. This will eliminate all that, apparently.”
This copyrighted editorial was published by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on June 13, 1967:
Bad Marriage Law Revoked, 9-0
In a rare display of unanimity, the Supreme Court has struck down laws against interracial marriage.
So explicit is the Constitution on the matter, it is surprising that the ban enforced by 16 states could have lasted as long as it did.
The 14th Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry must not be restricted by racial discriminations. It holds that the freedom to marry, or not to marry, resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state.
As Justice Potter Stewart declared, “It is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of [an] act depend upon the race of the actor.”
The law, where it has existed, was a humiliation to segments of the human race. Its banishment by unanimous decision is a welcome adjunct to racial understanding.
This copyrighted editorial was published by the Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey) on June 14, 1967:
Relic of Discrimination
The Supreme Court did away with one of the last—and, in a way, most cruel—relics of government-sponsored discrimination this week when it voided the laws of 16 states against interracial marriages.
Relatively few people, of course, are involved in such marriages. But for those who are, like Mr. and Mrs. Richard P. Loving, plaintiffs in the case before the Supreme Court, anti-miscegenation laws can be a harsh barrier to the “pursuit of happiness” promised in the Declaration of Independence.
The State of Virginia, which prosecuted the Lovings, sought to justify its statute by arguing that punishment was administered equally to both partners in an interracial marriage. Thus, no race was singled out for discriminatory treatment, it said.
The Court quite properly wasn’t having any of this ingenious but narrow reasoning. In its 9-0 decision, it found that “marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the 14th Amendment, is surely to deprive all the state’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”
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