This Valentine’s Day, we celebrate the political power of love. For much of U.S. history, people of color have been denied the opportunity to freely love without threat of harassment, violence, or family separation, and yet we still continue to love one another.
American slavery treated slaves as property and indiscriminately tore Black families apart by selling husbands, wives, and their children to different purchasers. The 1875 Page Act prohibited Chinese women from immigrating to the United States as the U.S. Government wanted to “limit the size of the Chinese population in America by preventing Chinese men from bringing their families to the United States or starting new ones.” And the last anti-miscegenation laws were not found unconstitutional until 1967, with Loving v. Virginia.
This blog entry focuses on that landmark case, so as to illustrate the ends to which communities of color struggled just for the right to love one another.
In 1958, Mildred Jeter, an Afro-Indigenous Rappahannock woman, and Richard Loving, a White man, decided to get married. They had met in high school, fell in love, and after becoming pregnant, made the decision to get married. Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, however, made it illegal for the couple to marry in their home state. Determined to marry, Jeter and Loving drove over 80 miles from their hometown of Central Point, Virginia to Washington D.C, where they could legally marry. They did this knowing that not only that their marriage would not be recognized in Virginia but that they would face legal consequences upon their return.
Just a few weeks after their return to Virginia, the Lovings were reported to Sheriff Garnett Brooks and two deputies, who forcibly broke into the couple’s bedroom on the morning of July 11, 1958. The Lovings were arrested and offered a plea bargain of a suspended sentence (1 year) if they agreed to leave the state and not return together for 25 years.
With no other option, the Lovings relocated to Washington D.C., where they had their three children. Desperate to return to their home state, the Loving wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, in 1963. They were then referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which agreed to take their case.
The Lovings appealed their case to Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals with the help of the ACLU. The decision, unfortunately, was upheld, with the presiding Judge stating that God “did not intend for the races to mix.” Undeterred, the Lovings decided to take their case to the United States Supreme Court.
In a unanimous decision, on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court found in the case of Loving v. Virginia that Virginia’s miscegenation laws violated the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. “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,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote while delivering the opinion of the court.
The decision ended prohibitions on race-based marriages and was a significant milestone for the American civil rights movement, as it made existing anti-miscegenation laws in other states, such as Alabama, unconstitutional.
Though interracial marriages remain low to this day—with only “one-in-six newlyweds” married to someone of a different race or ethnicity in the 50 years after Loving v. Virginia, multi-racial families have been able to exist without fearing legal repercussions. Interracial couples and families nonetheless continue to experience discrimination, as 14% of the non-Black U.S. population still “would be very or somewhat opposed to a close relative marrying someone who is Black.”
As a reentry program, the Loving v. Virginia is of significance as it teaches us both that states and governments have a long history of enacting legislation that harms minority families and individuals and that our love is stronger.
Today, laws and regulations such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) are rooted in racism and white supremacy. They disproportionately harm Black, Brown and poor families by punishing impoverished, struggling Americans when they are unable to provide for their children.
On this Valentine’s Day, we ask that you remember the historical and modern activists who have and continue to address the challenges and injustices experienced by people of color and other marginalized groups. We also ask that you remember, as Loving v. Virginia teaches us, our love is stronger than their hatred.