Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter could not get married in their home state of Virginia. It was 1958 and miscegenation was against the law. It was legal in Washington DC, so that’s where they got married. Back in Virginia a couple of weeks after they got married, they were woken up when the county sheriff and two deputies entered their bedroom. The sheriff carts Richard and Mildred, who was pregnant off to jail.
In court, they pleaded guilty.
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents,” presiding Judge Leon M. Bazile ruled. “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.”
Judge Bazile referencing the will of God was not unusual. The anti-miscegenation laws were based on several verses from the Bible:
- Genesis 28:1: “And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.”
- Leviticus 19:19: “Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind …”
- Deuteronomy 7:2-3: “And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
- Deuteronomy 22:9: “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.”
- Deuteronomy 23:2: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.”
- Jeremiah 13:23: “Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.”
- Acts 17:24-26: “God … hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation …”
The Lovings were ordered to leave the state and not return for 25 years. They moved to DC. In 1963, they decided to fight the Virginia law. With the help of the ACLU, they took the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. They lost.
These laws weren’t just a Southern phenomenon. 12 states, including Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and Illinois had anti-miscegenation laws which they repealed before 1887. Another 14 states, including Montana, California, Colorado and Indiana didn’t start repealing their laws until the period from 1948 to 1967. At the time of the Loving trial, 16 states, all of them Southern, still had anti-miscegenation laws.
In 1967, the case went before the United States Supreme Court. The court held that the Virginia anti-miscegenation law violated the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the 14 Amendment. With the law overturned, the Lovings were free to return to their home in Virginia. The SCOTUS decision overturned the laws in the remaining 16 states.
©2016 Stephen L. Martin
Photo: Mildred and Richard Loving