Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rest in peace, Mrs. Loving

Mildred Loving has died. She and her husband Richard, who passed away in 1975, were plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia (388 U.S. 1), the 1967 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws against interracial marriage:


In this and many other articles you read on Mrs. Loving's passing, you will see the appalling ruling of Judge Leon Bazile at the Virginia trial in which they were convicted:

"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."

To get rid of that bad taste in your mouth, I offer words from Chief Justice Earl Warren when he spoke for a unanimous Supreme Court striking down the Virginia miscegenation statute:

"There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies (the Virginia law) . The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause... These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men." (Loving at 11-12).

For a thorough discussion of the case, and the history of laws against interracial marriage, I recommend Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving by Phyl Newbeck (2004). I'll share a few tidbits from this fine book with you:

1. To their credit, nine states plus the District of Columbia never had miscegenation statutes; those states are: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin (see Appendix C). Not to get off the subject, but you who argue for gay marriage need to remember that this is the big difference between homosexual matrimony and the Loving case. Nearly a fifth of the states never said you couldn't marry outside of your race, but every state said you couldn't marry within your own gender until the Massachusetts Supreme Court spoke up a couple of years ago.

2. When Loving was decided, interracial marriage bans were still on the books in every southern and border state except one: Maryland. The year before the ruling was handed down, the Maryland legislature voted overwhelmingly to end the ban (p. 102). The bill was then signed by the governor, which means that Spiro Agnew--yes, Spiro Agnew--has the distinction of being the only governor of a state south of the Mason-Dixon line to sign legislation ending a miscegenation statute before the Supreme Court said such laws were unconstitutional. For that one shining moment, Agnew was as good as any statesman we've ever had.

3. You will notice Earl Warren's reliance on equal protection and due process as grounds for overturning the Virginia law. Well, one state, Mississippi, didn't even believe in free speech where interracial marriage was concerned. Their law stated that:

"Any person, firm or corporation who shall be guilty of printing, publishing, or circulating printed, typewritten, or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both." (Pp. 35-36, citing Murray, ed., States' Laws on Race and Color, 1950).

4. The Lovings, by the way, actually did spend time in jail, being arrested by the Caroline County sheriff on July 13, 1958. Richard was bailed our after one night because he was white, but since his new bride was black, she had to remain imprisoned four more nights until her hearing. Richard, of course, tried to bail her out, but was told if he did so he'd be tossed back into the slammer himself (p. 12). Fun place, that Caroline County in 1958, huh?

Thanks to the Lovings, their attorneys, and the Warren Court, that little bit of unpleasant American history got flushed away in 1967. Good riddance. And Godspeed to Mrs. Loving.

No comments: