Fighting for the Right to Love

02 November 2016

Cultural Studies | History

This week sees the release in US cinemas of Jeff Nichols’ 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 America’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 Matthew’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 Florida’s law against cohabitation between a white person and an African American person.

Dewey McLaughlin and Connie Hoffman v. State of Florida, 1963. Image © Amistad Research Center, New Orleans. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

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 Virginia’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:


Dewey McLaughlin and Connie Hoffman v. State of Florida, 1963. Image © Amistad Research Center, New Orleans. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

However, when the case went to the US Supreme Court in 1964, the decision ruled Florida’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 Loving’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 didn’t necessarily correlate with a change in people’s attitudes. Sociologists at Fisk University’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.

Marriage Across Racial Lines, Council for Christian Social Action, United Church of Christ, c.1960. Image © Amistad Research Center, New Orleans. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

June 12th, the day that the Supreme Court declared laws against interracial marriage to be unconstitutional, has now been unofficially named ‘Loving Day’ and is celebrated all over the world. 

To find out more about Race Relations in America, which is due for publication in early 2017, read the press release here or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Amy Hubbard

Amy Hubbard

Since joining Adam Matthew’s editorial team in January 2015 I’ve had the privilege to work on some fantastic resources including ‘World’s Fairs: A Global History of Exhibitions’, 'Race Relations in America‘ and 'Socialism on Film: The Cold War and International Propaganda’. My academic background is in literature and film and my main academic interests lie in visual culture, in particular anything to do with David Bowie.

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