"Cohabitating as man and wife against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth"
Rats tickled her feet.
Mildred sat in a dirty jail cell, some months pregnant, while rats crawled along the floor. Her husband's family managed to pay the bail for him, but she was stuck until the authorities felt like letting her go. Although they were arrested together, her white husband Richard found more sympathy from the state of Virginia than she did, as a woman of mixed racial background. Their crime, classified as a felony under state law, was simply being married to one another.
Virginia, like many other southern states, had passed "anti-miscegenation laws" in the early 1920s to prohibit interracial marriage to protect the "dignity" of the white supremacist philosophy that ruled the South with an iron grip.
They were ultimately released, but banished from Virginia for 25 years. Mildred and Richard Loving moved to Washington D.C., where they hoped their union would be more accepted. However, city life and ostracism took their toll; they missed their friends and families deeply in Virginia, and the big city was too dirty, expensive and chaotic. They simply wanted to go back to their quiet little hamlet and live peacefully, surrounded by those they loved.
Although the Supreme Court would ultimately rule in their favor, it took nine long years for Richard and Mildred's marriage to be officially recognized in 1967. The June decision in Loving v. Virginia formally legalized interracial marriage throughout the United States, as 24 states still had laws against miscegenation. However, despite the ruling, many states were reluctant to amend state law in accordance with federal law, and Alabama became the final state to remove all language referencing miscegenation in 2000.
Loving marks a triumph for love and civil rights. Today approximately 12 percent of marriages are interracial, and couples, married or not, no longer have to fear the state invading their intimate privacy on the grounds of racial differences.
To learn more about the Lovings or the history of interracial marriage in the U.S., check out these titles:
Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving