By Erica Hauswald
You may or may not know it, but today is Loving Day! The holiday seeks “to fight racial prejudice through education and to build multicultural community” by commemorating the famous 1967 Loving v. Virginia case. As members of a community that promotes and believes in the power of civic reflection and dialogue in the pursuit of social change, we should all take time to remember the history of the Lovings and celebrate this budding holiday!
Shocking as it may seem today, interracial marriage was still illegal in states across the country as late as 1967. Anti-miscegenation laws represented one of the last—and most viciously enduring—remnants of Jim Crow legal segregation. After nearly a century of countless futile attempts to challenge these laws (including 1964’s McLaughlin v. Florida, 1955’s Naim v. Naim, and many more), the Supreme Court unanimously struck down all anti-miscegenation laws in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, legalizing interracial marriage across the country.
This legendary case made Mildred and Richard Loving national celebrities. Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man—both natives of Virginia—had married in 1958 in Washington D.C., where interracial marriage was legal. Once back at their home in Virginia, however, the couple was woken in the middle of the night to three police officers violently bursting into their house. The officers declared that their marriage was “no good here” and arrested them, ostensibly for “illegal cohabitation.” Each was sentenced to a year in prison or 25-year exile from their home state. Under pressure, the Lovings agreed to move out of Virginia. But after a few years, missing their friends and families, they wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy about their case, who referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union. Before they knew it, their case had made it all the way to the Supreme Court, and was destined to transform the lives and opportunities of all American citizens. The couple, however, shunned the spotlight. Like many who become hallmarks of a changing regime, they did not seek notoriety or even leadership in the Civil Rights battle. They only wanted to get married.
Richard Loving died tragically in a car accident in 1975 and Mildred, who never remarried but lived a calm life on a Virginia farm, passed away in 2008. But Ken Tanabe, a graduate student at Parsons the New School, was determined to see that the history of the Lovings’ struggle did not disappear with the couple. Troubled that the Lovings had not been a staple of his American History education, Tanabe started Loving Day in 2004 to commemorate the arduous fight for interracial marriage in America. The holiday’s name carries a dual significance, both honoring the couple who initiated the infamous case and announcing its broader commitment to tolerance, awareness, and understanding around the romantic relationships of “interracial, multicultural, international, and interfaith couples.” Celebrations of Loving Day are taking place all over the country, on and around June 12th. Some include concerts, picnics, or festivals, but all are united in their drive to celebrate and educate people about the history and rights of interracial and multicultural couples in the United States.
This holiday, which reminds us of the fragile state of individual rights in this country and the relative newness of interracial couples’ right to wed, seems more relevant now than ever. The issue of interracial marriage was much discussed during the 2008 presidential election, as Barack Obama himself was the product of one such controversial union. When his parents took the audacious step to marry as an interracial couple in 1961, it was still illegal in 22 states and exceedingly rare. Now, interracial marriages are at an all-time high. Based on the 2010 census and nationwide telephone surveys, the Pew Research Center estimates that 1 in 7 marriages in the U.S. are now an interracial pairing.
Loving Day carries additional significance for Chicago residents this year because of the current case for LGBT marriage equality underway in the state of Illinois. On May 30, 2012, Lambda Legal filed a suit, Darby v. Orr, against the state of Illinois on behalf of 16 same-sex couples (a number of them also interracial) for their right to marry, proving that marriage equality remains a fundamental and deep-seated American concern. The historic struggle to legalize interracial marriage to which Loving Day pays tribute has countless parallels to the current fight for LGBT marriage equality. Marriage still confers an enormous number of rights and protections (including hospital visitation, parental rights, financial benefits, and more). Like the Lovings, the 16 Illinois couples represented in the Darby v. Orr case see marriage as both an emotional and a legal right, and are waging a similar fight against their status as second-class citizens. As Americans for social change and racial justice, we should celebrate Loving Day both to commemorate the long historic civil rights struggle for interracial marriage and to affirm the ongoing fight for marriage equality in our state and in the nation.
To learn more or help lead celebrations of Loving Day in your own community, visit the Loving Day website.
Erica Hauswald is a writer and literary enthusiast who just received her B.A. from Grinnell College. She will be teaching in New York City Public Schools next year as a Blue Engine Teaching Fellow. She is extremely excited to be writing for Neighborhood Writing Alliance!”