Fighting for the Right to Love
This week sees the release in US cinemas of Jeff Nicholsâ€™ film Loving, a dramatization of the story of interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving whose marriage led to their arrest under anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia in 1958. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, they appealed against the conviction and the case went to the US Supreme Court in 1967 where, in a ground-breaking decision, the convictions were overturned and all remaining anti-miscegenation laws in US states were rendered unconstitutional.
As with all the progress achieved during Americaâ€™s turbulent battle for civil rights, this incredibly significant moment of social justice was the product of a long and painful journey, and evidence of this journey can be traced through various documents in Adam Matthewâ€™s upcoming Race Relations in America resource. The document below, for example, is a summary of the proceedings of a 1963 case involving unmarried interracial couple Dewey McLaughlin and Connie Hoffman who were convicted under Floridaâ€™s law against cohabitation between a white person and an African American person.
Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States date back hundreds of years, but the 1883 Pace vs. Alabama case lead to the ruling that such laws were not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and were therefore constitutional. Up until 1967, laws against interracial marriage and cohabitation varied across the 16 states that still upheld them. The Lovings, for example, were convicted under Virginiaâ€™s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, a product of theories of eugenics that declared marriage between white and non-white people a crime.
The McLaughlin case was rejected from the Supreme Court of Florida on the following grounds:
However, when the case went to the US Supreme Court in 1964, the decision ruled Floridaâ€™s cohabitation law to be unconstitutional, nullifying the 1883 Pace vs. Alabama decision and therefore taking a huge step forward in race relations and the fight for equality. The Lovingâ€™s case three years later brought about the final dissolution of laws against interracial marriage.
Material in the Race Relations in America collection also underlines the fact that changing legislation didnâ€™t necessarily correlate with a change in peopleâ€™s attitudes. Sociologists at Fisk Universityâ€™s Race Relations Department, the records of which can be found in Race Relations in America, worked to ensure that community programs, research, education and discussion were used as vital elements in the advancement of social and political progress. The extracts below, taken from a pamphlet by the Council for Christian Social Action, provide an example of the literature used to encourage education and to change social perceptions grounded in centuries-old prejudices.
June 12th, the day that the Supreme Court declared laws against interracial marriage to be unconstitutional, has now been unofficially named â€˜Loving Dayâ€™ and is celebrated all over the world.