Marriage rights and civil rights giant, Mildred Loving, 68


We learned today that Mildred Loving died Friday in Milford, Virginia.  She was 68.

2007 was the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court Decision in which she played a key role, Loving vs. Virginia. In that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws against interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

The romance and marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving demonstrate the real human reasons behind advances in civil rights laws.  They left Virginia to avoid facing prosecution for having gotten married; but when they wanted to be closer to family, they wrote to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. He referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union, who financed the case to get the law changed.

Richard and Mildred Loving, screen capture photo from HBO documentary,

Richard and Mildred Loving, screen capture photo from HBO documentary, “The Loving Story.”

See the post from last year on the anniversary of the decision. The Associated Press wrote today:

Peggy Fortune [daughter] said Loving, 68, died Friday at her home in rural Milford. She did not disclose the cause of death.

“I want (people) to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believed in love,” Fortune told The Associated Press.

Loving and her white husband, Richard, changed history in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. The ruling struck down laws banning racially mixed marriages in at least 17 states.

“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,” the court ruled in a unanimous decision.

Her husband died in 1975. Shy and soft-spoken, Loving shunned publicity and in a rare interview with The Associated Press last June, insisted she never wanted to be a hero — just a bride.

“It wasn’t my doing,” Loving said. “It was God’s work.”

Mildred Jeter was 11 when she and 17-year-old Richard began courting, according to Phyl Newbeck, a Vermont author who detailed the case in the 2004 book, “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers.”

Richard died in 1975.

History loses another hero.

Update: Just as one more showing of how things have changed, this is the headline of the story of Mrs. Loving’s death in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, Free Lance-Star, the local newspaper in Mrs. Loving’s home county, Caroline County:  “CAROLINE HEROINE DIES

I’ll wager the Virginia headlines were quite not so glowing in 1967.

4 Responses to Marriage rights and civil rights giant, Mildred Loving, 68

  1. […] [Richard Loving died in an auto accident in 1975. Mrs. Loving did not remarry, and today lives in the house Mr. Loving built for them, still.] [Update, 2015: Mrs. Loving died in 2008; see tribute here.[ […]

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  2. […] Upon the death of Mildred Loving, May 2008 This post appears as it originally appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub on May 5, 2008.  Us… […]

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Thank you for the additional history.

    I would phrase it differently, however — 50 states, not just 17. No state, or territory, may ban interracial marriage.

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  4. V.E.G. says:

    Mildred Loving is part Black and part Native American and of Melungeon origin due to her mother’s maiden name Byrd. Thanks to a Melungeon, the bans on interracial marriage was overturned in 17 states!

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