47 Years Ago, This Couple Changed Interracial Relationships Forever

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Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving fought for the right for interracial couples to marry 40 years ago.

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving

Reported by Andrew Scot Bolsinger

Long before gay marriage became a national crusade for equality, a white man and black woman took their love to the highest courts for the right to marry.

Perhaps the most notorious, brazen mixed-race marriage in American history is celebrated on June 12, which marks the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling to declare bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional.

The marriage between Mildred Jeter, a 17-year-old black woman, and Richard Loving, a 23-year-old white man, was considered illegal in 16 states back then. The courageous couple lived in Virginia, at the turbulent dawn of the Civil Rights Movement that ignited across the South.

The couple wed in 1958 in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriage was legal. However, upon their return home to Virginia, the newlyweds were charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed.

“During their sentencing, the judge presiding over the case gave the pair a choice: Spend a year in prison, or don’t return to Virginia for 25 years. They chose the latter,” a story on Huffington Post states.

In his decision, Judge Leon M. Bazile said: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Five years later, the couple contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to try to reverse the judge’s decision, which eventually led to the landmark decision by the highest court in the land.

“Under our Constitution,” Chief Justice Earl Warren said of the court’s decision, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Richard died just years after the decision in a car crash in 1975. Mildred never remarried and died in 2008.

“They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom,” Bernard Cohen, the ACLU volunteer attorney who took on their case, told NPR on the decision’s 40th anniversary in 2007.