Mildred Jeter, a black woman, married Richard Loving, a white man. Their ground-breaking case, Loving v. Virginia, challenged and overturned anti-miscegenation laws in at least 17 states, including my home state of Indiana -- which one of my friends recently referred to as "the South's middle finger."
As a product of a bi-racial marriage, I owe my existence to this decision. I grew up in the 1980s when my school system was still attempting to desegregate; while my parents tried to shield me from it, I had to endure cruel jokes and treatment from other kids and their parents because I was a "half-breed"; and to this day, when I date a white woman, I still have to ask how her parents are going to take my race. (You may be surprised how often it is actually a problem.) Yet, all that pales in comparison to what happened to Mildred and Richard (from a statement released by Mildred last year on the 40th anniversary of the decision):
We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.
When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?
Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “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.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.
My mother hinted at problems my parents encountered when they were together in public back in the 70s, but I don't know what they went through. I'm sure it was pretty nasty...I know for a fact that her father's side of the family still doesn't know I'm black. I've never even met them. I assumed they were all dead until just a few years before my mother died. Even then, she wouldn't introduce me to them. (I've been told they wouldn't approve.)
Well, thanks to Mildred Jeter Loving, people like me have become more accepted in society and people like my parents can live together without fearing the police barging into their homes and arresting them for being who they are and loving each other.
Mildred Loving, R.I.P.