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Loving v. Virginia Comes to Life in Tribeca Film

Friday, April 22, 2011 - 03:56 PM

Mildred and Richard Loving were charged with violating Virginia's Racial Integrity Act. (Tribeca Film Festival)

The 2011 Tribeca Film Festival is in full swing, here in New York, celebrating it’s tenth year with a bevy of science fiction, drama and even horror films to capture the imagination. But the genre in which I am most interested, this time around, is a love story - disguised as a documentary.

It’s called “The Loving Story: A Long Walk Home,” and it tells the tale of eighteen-year-old Mildred Jeter and her quiet, unassuming boyfriend, Richard Loving. The two fell in love, decided to marry, but needed permission - not from their parents, but from the U.S. Supreme Court.

That’s because Richard was white and Mildred was Black and Native American, and in 1958, it was illegal for them to get married in a majority of states.

They lived in the most draconian of those states – Virginia, but they followed the rules, went off the District of Columbia, where they could be married legally, and returned to Virginia, to live a quiet life.

Upon their return, however, the police invaded their home, and found them in bed. In their defense, Mildred pointed to their marriage certificate, which was sweetly hanging on the wall of their bedroom.

They were charged under the anti-miscegenation laws, and faced as a prison sentence of up to five years. The Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended -- on condition that they leave the state of Virginia, which they did.

But, in 1959 interracial couples faced untold discrimination in employment and housing. Their children were harassed at school, taunted on the street, called "mixed nuts." These children were technically “illegitimate” in the eyes of a majority of states.

The Lovings began to realize that, unwittingly, they had become part of something bigger, a movement to demand rights in a civil society. So they filed suit, for the right to live openly as a married couple in the state of Virginia.

In 1967, the landmark Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia finally overturned all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.

The Lovings and their children never sought the spotlight. Instead, they lived a quiet life, as the world around them changed. Now people from different races are marrying in increasing numbers. The couple aptly named Loving made it possible, and taught us that true love is color blind. It is fitting that we finally take a moment to honor their legacy.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.

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