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Loving Day: 53 years after the Supreme Court overturned laws banning interracial marriage

Mildred and Richard Loving took their case to the highest court after they were arrested for living together as an interracial married couple in Virginia.
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mildred Loving and her husband Richard P Loving are shown in this January 26, 1965 file photograph.

Fifty-three years ago on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans against interracial marriage. 

The landmark legal challenge was brought to the nation's highest court by a Virginia couple, Mildred and Richard Loving who had both previously been arrested for being an interracial couple, she a Black woman and he a white man. 

The Lovings were locked up and given a year in a Virginia prison, with the sentence suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia. Their sentence is memorialized on a marker to go up on Monday in Richmond, Virginia, in their honor.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision struck down the Virginia law and similar statutes in roughly one-third of the states. Some of those laws went beyond black and white, prohibiting marriages between whites and Native Americans, Filipinos, Indians, Asians, and in some states “all non-whites.”

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But when police raided their Central Point home in 1958 and found a pregnant Mildred in bed with her husband and a District of Columbia marriage certificate on the wall, they arrested them, leading the Lovings to plead guilty to cohabitating as man and wife in Virginia.

The Lovings, a working-class couple from a deeply rural community, weren’t trying to change the world and were media-shy, one of their lawyers, Philip Hirschkop, told the Associated Press in 2017. They simply wanted to be married and raise their children in Virginia.

But they knew what was at stake in their case.

“It’s the principle. It’s the law. I don’t think it’s right,” Mildred Loving said in archival video footage shown in the HBO documentary "The Loving Story." “And if, if we do win, we will be helping a lot of people.”

Their story was also told in the 2016 movie "Loving."

Mildred Loving died in 2008 and Richard Loving died in a car crash in 1975. 

According to analysis from the Pew Research Center, in 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. The percentage is much greater than the 3% of newlywed intermarried back in 1967. When looking at all married couples, 10% had a spouse of a different race in 2015. 

After deciding to focus on the Loving v. Virginia decision for his graduate thesis project to learn about his own interracial heritage, designer Ken Tanabe grew the project into Loving Day, something celebrated across the country and around the world. Celebrated on June 12, the day is meant to focus and discuss race and discriminatory laws and policies. 

According to USA Today, Loving Day is officially recognized in Virginia, Vermont, New York City and Los Angeles. 

In recent weeks, conversations about race have become a national conversation following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. 

The incident sparked weeks of protests demanding change to police departments and systematic racism that is still prevalent in the country.

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