‘Loving Day’ Turns 54. Historic Ruling Legalized Interracial Marriage

This Jan. 26, 1965 file photo shows Mildred Loving and her husband Richard P Loving. Fifty years after Mildred and Richard Loving’s landmark legal challenge shattered the laws against interracial marriage in the U.S., some couples of different races still talk of facing discrimination, disapproval and sometimes outright hostility from their fellow Americans. (AP Photo)

By Arianna Coghill

June 12, 2021

RICHMOND-Loving Day may not be an official holiday, but it marks a special anniversary. On this day 54 years ago, a Virginia couple made history, winning a landmark Supreme Court case that gave people the right to love as they choose. 

The History of Loving Day

Richard and Mildred Loving were a interracial couple who got married in in Washington D.C. in 1958. After they returned to their Caroline County home, police officers arrested and charged the Lovings. Virginia was one of 24 states at the time that had laws banning interracial marriages.

In 1958, Virginia officials charged and convicted the couple of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.” They offered a choice: either serve jail time or not return to Virginia, their home state, for 25 years. The Lovings chose the latter. 

In 1963, Mildred wrote a letter to then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who directed her to the American Civil Liberties Union. That’s where she met Bernard Cohen and Phil Hirschkop, ACLU volunteer attorneys only a few years out of law school. The men agreed to take on the case, fighting the ruling all the way to the US Supreme Court.

“We would pinch ourselves and say, Do we realize what we’re doing? We’re handling one of the most important constitutional law cases ever to come before the court,” Cohen said in a documentary about the case that aired on HBO in 2012.

After losing initial cases, on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that found Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional. It was a landmark ruling that paved the way for the legalization of same sex marriage in America, 48 years later in 2015.

State Bans Struck Down

The case struck down 16 state bans on interracial marriage as unconstitutional.  The Lovings won freedom not only for themselves, but for every interracial couple that were together at the time and for many years to come. 

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

While not an official state holiday, many Virginians celebrate Loving Day over 50 years later, honoring the couple that refused to be silent.

The fight against racial injustice is still raging in the United States. Advocates for the racial equality for minorities took to the streets over the last year, calling attention to the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police. 

The official Loving Day website stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, stating while the day is an annual observation, “its meaning is valuable throughout the year.”

“Actions in support of Black lives and justice should not be limited to a day or a moment in history. Let’s commit to finding ways to make positive change for the long haul,” they said a statement. “Changes take our sustained commitment.” 

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