The Supreme Court Case Loving v. Virginia marked a groundbreaking moment in Civil Rights history as it branded any laws prohibiting interracial marriage to be unconstitutional. That was in 1967, and now, 49 years later, a #biopic based on the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving has just hit theaters. #JoelEdgerton and #RuthNegga star as the husband and wife that became reluctant activists when creating a family was considered a crime.
Watch the trailer below:
#Loving competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and is already generating #Oscar buzz, but just how closely did writer and director Jeff Nichols stick to the true story? Let's take a look at the real history of Mildred and Richard Loving to find out.
High School Sweethearts
Mildred Delores Jeter was born in Caroline County, Virginia on July 22, 1939. Being Rappahannock and Cherokee Indian as well as African American, she attended an all-black school in the area. When Mildred was 11, she met Richard Loving, a white 17-year-old and another Caroline County native. Although she initially found him arrogant, Mildred and Richard began spending time together, eventually falling in love.
Richard only completed one year at an all-white high school, and Mildred stopped her education after the 11th grade. When Mildred became pregnant at the age of 18, the pair decided to marry.
Love In The Time Of Jim Crow Laws
Because Virginia still upheld the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 — the anti-miscegenation law — Richard and Mildred could not legally be wed in their home state. Instead, they traveled to Washington DC to make it official, and returned home to set up house.
Five weeks after their wedding, in the early morning of July 11, 1958, the newly weds were sleeping in their house in Central Point, Virginia when the county sheriff and two deputies stormed into their bedroom. Shining flashlights in the dazed couple's eyes, someone demanded:
"Who is this woman your sleeping with?"
"I'm his wife."
As she gestured to the marriage certificate on the wall, the sheriff replied:
"That's no good here."
According to Virginia law, a marriage between people of different races — even one obtained legally outside Virginia — was still illegal within state borders. Mrs. and Mrs. Loving were immediately taken to jail, where Richard spent one night and pregnant Mildred spent several more. Eventually, the couple pleaded guilty and were required to leave Virginia and forbidden to return together for 25 years. They paid their court fees of $36.29 ($302.24, adjusted for inflation) each, and relocated to Washington DC.
Longing For Home
The Lovings had three children while they were living in DC. However, adjusting to the city proved difficult after their simple country upbringing, and they missed their friends and family in Caroline County. Secretly and separately, Mildred and Richard visited Virginia periodically, yet these trips only made them more desperate to return home permanently.
As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, Mildred Loving became increasingly empowered to challenge the injustice against her and her family. She wrote a letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, asking for help. Kennedy responded, referring her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which accepted the Loving's case.
Lawyers Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop first attempted to have the ruling overturned by the judge that initially presided over the conviction. But in 1965, Judge Leon M. Bazile made the following statement against the couple:
"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 arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
Next, Cohen and Hirschkop took the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, where it original ruling was once again upheld. Finally, Loving v. Virginia made it to the United States Supreme Court in April 1967. The lawyers argued that Virginia's ban on interracial marriage violated the Equal Protection Clause of 14th Amendment. Richard Loving's own statement about the matter was plain and simple:
"Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."
The Supreme Court unanimously agreed in favor of the Lovings. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion on June 12, 1967. He wrote:
"[The Virginia law had no purpose] independent of invidious racial discrimination... 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."
The Loving Legacy
The Lovings did return to Virginia, and lived their happily until Richard was tragically killed in a car accident in 1975. Although she was often approached, Mildred tended to shy away from the attention regarding the case. In a rare interview in 1992, she explained:
"What happened, we really didn't intend for it to happen. What we wanted, we wanted to come home."
On May 2, 2008, Mildred Loving passed away of pneumonia. She and Richard are survived by two of their children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Loving is in theaters now.