Mildred and Richard Loving, their daughter Peggy, Mildred’s sister Garnet, and Richard’s mother Lola, on the front porch of Mildred’s mother’s house, Caroline County, Virginia. Photo by Grey Villet, April 1965.

45 Years Later, a Double Tribute to Loving v. Virginia

ICTMN Staff
2/25/12

On July 11, 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving were arrested in their own home in Caroline County, Virginia. Their crime: Marriage. Richard was white; Mildred was black and American Indian, and according to Virginia's 1924 Racial Integrity Act, their nuptials the previous month in Washington DC weren't invalid in the state of Virginia, they were illegal.

Judge Leon Bazile, who presided over the Lovings' trial, once offered this explanation of anti-miscegenation laws: "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."

The Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year in prison, which was suspended on the condition they leave the state and not return together for 25 years.

So they moved to Washington, DC, but always wished to return home to Caroline County, where they both grew up. (In fact, they did venture back into Virginia surreptitiously from time to time.) In 1964, Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who advised her to contact the American Civil Liberties Union. She did, and so began a legal saga that lasted until June 12, 1967, when the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the Lovings' favor and overturned their convictions. They returned to Virginia as man and wife.

When Filmmaker Nancy Buirski set out to make a documentary on the Lovings, she uncovered a wealth of material that had essentially gone unseen for decades. In addition to 16mm film, she also found pictures taken for Life magazine by South African photographer Grey Villet. Villet shot 73 rolls of film for the magazine, but only nine were used; he developed and sent 70 prints to the Lovings.

Those images, and others from Villet's estate, are now on display at the International Center for Photography in New York City. In an article about the show for the New York Times, critic Martha Schwendener writes that "In Mr. Villet’s photographs Richard and Mildred Loving exist in a world of romantic understanding and connubial bliss (segregation laws aside). Several images show the couple kissing." Schwendener writes that the pictures are in the classic Life photo-essay style, and that "the overriding message ... that the Lovings are supremely ordinary, working-class folks." The Loving Story: Photographs by Grey Villet runs through May 6.

Director Nancy Buirski made her film, also titled The Loving Story, and it debuted on HBO on Valentine's Day. The Washington Post's Hank Stuever writes that the documentary "rescues the Lovings from the perfunctory realm of footnotes and newspaper clippings and brings them into a more emotional light." Stuever continues: "The Lovings weren’t media savvy, but the camera loved them all the same. Mildred, with her lovely smile and natural sense of calm, does most of the talking as broad-shouldered, crew-cutted Richard comes and goes, performing his chores. Together they looked like what would happen if Big Moose from the 'Archie' comics had wooed Lena Horne. Clearly, the attention made them feel awkward; the last thing they wanted was a fuss, but when trouble came, they faced it with courage."

The Loving Story is currently in rotation on HBO and available via HBO On Demand.

The Loving Story
The Loving Story
The Loving Story
The Loving Story
The Loving Story

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Peter habberfield's picture
Peter habberfield
Submitted by Peter habberfield on
A moving story. More should be aware of this dignified couples historic fight.

pattyJ.'s picture
pattyJ.
Submitted by pattyJ. on
admiration for a courageous coulpe. their example shows that in u.sa.,if a person wants to make a change it can be done. they showed that you have to stand up for yourself. no one will do it for you.

linda bey's picture
linda bey
Submitted by linda bey on
Born in the deep south and moving up north I had such a warm and respectable love for this couple. Their children must be wonderful and so proud

Tommielea's picture
Tommielea
Submitted by Tommielea on
This story still fascinates me. What a brave couple. I've seen the HBO film many times. Wish someone had told this story before Mildred passed on. What took so long!!??!! After telling my friend about the documentary he attempted to find it at his home library only to be told it's not available anywhere. Currently it can be viewed on HBO on Demand or HBO GO.

Juanita's picture
Juanita
Submitted by Juanita on
I want to thank the loving for fighting for the right too love whom ever makes you happy... We all are mixed check your DNA... Rather or not .we are loving of the human race.

ジョーダン 23's picture
ジョーダン 23
Submitted by ジョーダン 23 on
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