Why is it called Loving Day?
The Loving Day Story
Married and Arrested
Mildred Delores Jeter and Richard Perry Loving grew up in the U.S. in Caroline County, Virginia. They fell in love and wanted to get married in 1958. But for interracial couples like the Lovings, marriage was against the law in their home state (and many other places). So they drove to Washington, DC, to be legally married and then returned to Virginia. But the Lovings didn’t realize that they had just broken another law. It was also illegal to leave the state to get married and then return to Virginia. A few weeks later, the police entered their home at night while they were asleep in bed. The Lovings were arrested and taken to jail.
Prison and Banishment
Their marriage was a crime punishable by one to five years in prison. In court, Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced them to one year in prison. But he said they could avoid prison if they left Virginia and did not return together for 25 years. They agreed and moved to Washington, DC. The Lovings had difficulties in Washington. They were far from their families and the rural life that they knew. Then their young son Donald was hit by a car, luckily escaping with only minor injuries. They didn’t have a lot of money or options. In 1963, as the country was talking about a civil rights bill and a March on Washington, Mildred decided to take action.
A Letter and A Decision
She hand-wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Robert “Bobby” Kennedy to ask for help. His office suggested contacting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Then, the ACLU referred the Lovings to a young lawyer named Bernard S. Cohen. At first, he worked alone on getting the trial judge to rehear the case. A year later, a chance meeting led to connecting with another young lawyer named Philip H. Hirschkop. Together they would appeal the Lovings’ case for years, and for free.
The Lovings’ case went to the Supreme Court—the highest court in the U.S. Their lawyers argued that the Lovings were denied equal protection under the law. Richard Loving asked their lawyers to “tell the Court I love my wife.” In a unanimous decision, the court struck down centuries of racist laws against interracial marriage and relationships. Finally, almost nine years after they were arrested, the Lovings won the right to live together as a family in the place they called home.
History and Future
The Loving v. Virginia decision was June 12th, 1967. And that’s why Loving Day is on June 12th. The Loving Decision should be remembered as an important moment for civil rights. But it’s also a part of a much longer and broader history of standing up to the structural inequities and racist attitudes that we must continue to dismantle today. This is a summarized version of the Lovings’ story. In addition to the resources we provide, there are films and books that tell their story in more detail.
A Note on Terminology
These resources include racial terms quoted from historical and external documents that some may find offensive.
A Note on the Lovings’ Identities
We recognize that our identities are complex. They are not limited to a single categorization, and they can change over time.
Over the years, Mildred Jeter Loving self-identified (or was identified by others) in different ways. This included Native American and Black, though different words were used.
For example, she self-identified as “Indian” on their marriage license in 1958. She self-identified as “part negro” and “part indian” in her 1963 letter to Robert Kennedy. She was identified as “a Negro woman” in the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case. Mildred Jeter Loving and members of her family have also self-identified as “Rappahannock Indian.” Richard Loving self-identified (or was identified by others) as “white” in all of the examples above. He was of English and Irish descent.