Lovings Case’s Lessons Linger

According to various news accounts, early on the morning of July 15, 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving awoke in their bed with three flashlights shining in their eyes. A voice behind the lights demanded, “What are you doing in bed with this lady?”

“I am his wife,” Mildred answered. Richard pointed to their five week old Washington DC marriage license hanging on the wall.

The marriage license did not impress Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks. “That’s no good here,” he informed the couple. The Caroline County sheriff, along with two deputies, who had entered the house through an unlocked door at 2:00 a.m., arrested Richard and Mildred Loving. The lawmen charged the couple with violating Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage, Richard was white and Mildred was “colored.”

The arrest and conviction of the young couple…Richard, 24 and Mildred, 18…is similar to the arrest four years earlier, of civil rights heroine, Rosa Parks. Whereas Rosa Parks refused to obey Montgomery’s ordinance requiring colored people to sit in the rear of city buses, Richard and Mildred Loving refused to obey Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, prohibiting marriage between individuals classified as being of different races. Writing about the case in Emerge magazine, Victoria Valentine says the Lovings “didn’t start to make history, they just wished to live as husband and wife.”

Born in Caroline County, Virginia, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter grew up on the same road near one another, in the town of “Central Point.” Writer Valentine describes Central Point as the type of community where colored and White families were friendly with each other. Within their community they acknowledged relationships between one another. A number of the women birthed interracial children, but never married.

At that time in America, only a few couples married across racial lines. According to U.S. Census data, in 1960 there were 51,000 black/white married couples in the whole of the United States. Of that number, 26,000 were black woman/white man couples.

In 1995, there were 328,000 black/white married couples, with 122,000 of those being black women and white men. Today, 8,223 interracial couples including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, (who bears the name of the state), live in Virginia.

The reason there were so few interracial marriages at that time has more to do with the laws manifesting religious values instead of constitutional values. One comes to this conclusion after reading Judge Leon M. Basile’s decision in the Loving’s case. He sentenced the couple to one year in jail, then suspended the sentence on the condition the couple remain out of the state of Virginia for 25 years.

Judge Basile admonished in his ruling, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with His arrangements, there would be no cause for such marriage.” After the trial, the Lovings moved to Washington DC, where they lived with their three children until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law in June 1967.

Why is the history of Richard and Mildred Loving important today? Governor Fob James’ recent actions make it relevant to all freedom loving Americans. Because in Governor James’ view, the U.S. Bill of Rights does not apply to state governments. The recent letter he sent to U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent brought the Lovings’ case to my mind. In the 34 page letter, Gov. James requested that Judge DeMent disregard the U.S. Supreme Court and years of legal precedent, and rule in a DeKalb County case involving school prayer that the Bill of Rights does not apply.

In his letter to Judge DeMent, Governor James wrote “we will have no Justice in our courts, or integrity in our government, without the blessing of God upon us.” It appears Governor James underestimates the ubiquitousness of God’s blessings, as well as His power.

On the other hand, the voters of Alabama elected the Governor to attend to the more terrestrial matters of our state. Funding for our education system needs his attention. Health care for the elderly will require more resources and creative reforms. Child care programs that do not yet exist, are essential for meaningful welfare reform. And, the State’s aging infrastructure needs upgrading. These are only a few areas on which the governor should spend his valuable time working, rather than butting into what can rightly be said is none of his business.

It seems that some politicians never learn the essence of our constitution. That is; Americans don’t want government involved in their private lives. So, just as in 1958, when the U.S. Supreme Court told Sheriff Brooks and Judge Basile to stay out of Richard and Mildred Loving’s bedroom, this Supreme Court will certainly tell Fob James to keep his prayer out of Alabama’s schools.

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Originally Published: 16 July 1997, Montgomery Advertiser

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