Mildred Loving, the Virginia woman who challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court the state’s ban on interracial marriage, died on Friday. She was sixty-eight years old.
Here’s a bit of background on the case from Encyclopedia Virginia‘s entry (which was written by Phyl Newbeck, author of Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving):
The plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Loving, were arrested in 1958 for violating the terms of the Racial Integrity Act. By law, Jeter was classified as “colored” and Loving as “white” and therefore left the state, in June 1958, to marry in the District of Columbia, where no such prohibition existed. However, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act contained a section that forbade interracial couples who married outside the state from returning to live as husband and wife. When the Lovings returned to Virginia to establish their home in Caroline County, the Circuit Court of Caroline County issued an indictment in October 1958 stating that they were in violation of state law. On January 6, 1959, Judge Leon Bazile accepted their guilty pleas but suspended their one-year sentences on the condition that they left Virginia and promised not to return together for twenty-five years. The Lovings left Virginia and established their home in Washington, D.C.
Their eventual decision to appeal the conviction led to the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1967 ruling that struck down the Virginia law.
Loving v. Virginia established the legal basis for a cultural redefinition of marriage. Over time, marriages between whites and African Americans became both more numerous and more acceptable. Same-sex marriages, meanwhile, became more disputed, with gay rights activists attempting to use Loving v. Virginia as a precedent in their favor. The courts have preferred reading the case strictly in terms of race, although Mildred Loving, in 2007, released a statement affirming her support for same-sex marriage.
If you’re curious enough to listen to the oral arguments made in Loving v. Virginia, they’re available here.
The story on Loving’s death, meanwhile, is poignant. She never set out to change history, she told the Associated Press last year, “she was just a girl who once fell in love with a boy.”