ACLU History: Loving v. Virginia

September 1, 2010
Few cases were more aptly named than Loving v. Virginia, which pitted an interracial couple – 17-year-old Mildred Jeter, who was black, and her childhood sweetheart, 23-year-old white construction worker, Richard Loving – against Virginia's 'miscegenation' laws banning marriage between blacks and whites. After marrying in Washington, D.C. and returning to their home state in 1958, the couple was charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed. According to the judge in the case, Leon M. Bazile, 'Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.' Judge Bazile sentenced the Lovings to a year in prison, to be suspended if the couple agreed to leave the state for the next 25 years.

The Lovings left Virginia and went to live with relatives in Washington, D.C. When they returned to visit family five years later, they were arrested for traveling together. Inspired by the civil rights movement, Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help. The couple was referred to the ACLU, which represented them in the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967). The Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional.


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