A lot of times, when I get that not-so-post-racial feeling around town — when my presence at the local ice cream store curls the faces around me into question marks; when a stranger stops me, tells me how cute my kids are and then asks where their mother is — I think of another interracial couple who made their way in small-town America: the Lovings.
In 1958, when she was 18, Mildred Dolores “Bean” Jeter married the man she loved, a bricklayer and family friend from her Virginia hometown, Richard Perry Loving. A month after their out-of-state wedding, the newlyweds were roused from their beds in the dead of night by police. They were arrested, jailed and, for all intents and purposes, banished from the state for violating the Racial Integrity Act. In facing the charges against them, Mildred and Richard pleaded guilty in court, because they were guilty: Their marriage certificate, which hung on their bedroom wall, was no good, just like their mixed-race union.
Clearly, Virginia wasn’t always for lovers. But on June 12, 1967, 44 years ago today, the US Supreme Court unanimously rejected the state’s argument that keeping the races from marrying was part of God’s plan. The couple’s convictions were overturned and, after 25 years in exile in Washington, D.C., they returned to the only place they had ever wanted to be, Caroline County, Va. Now every year on this day, Loving Day, those who walk in the Loving’s footsteps celebrate the love that started between a boy and a girl, and that eventually dismantled anti-miscegenation laws in more than a dozen states.
Like me, Mildred Loving had three children. Her husband was proudly blue-collar, like mine. But while I sometimes experience our biracial outpost like some kind of frontier pilgrim in the rural depths, Maple Street is a racial utopia compared to what the Lovings endured. When I started to feel frustrated, I called a web developer and created a blog. When Mildred Loving felt frustrated, she called then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and created a racial firestorm. I can’t comprehend how shunned they felt, and I can hardly believe what they sacrificed — their own safety, the safety of their children, the much easier road of staying with their own kind. But I am so grateful.