The Lovings' right to happiness

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 1/25/2012, 6:37 p.m.
Virginia may tout itself as the state for lovers today, but that was not the...
The Lovings' right to happiness

Bazile's archaic and racist language proved to be fuel for the Lovings' case.

Supreme Court arguments began on April 10, 1967, in the case of Loving v. Virginia. The Lovings' lawyers argued that the law against interracial marriage was in fact a slavery law, designed to deny the Negro race basic fundamental rights.

"The laws are simply relics of slavery and they are maintained to keep the colored person down and the white person up," Cohen said.

The state argued that such laws were in place to protect the rights of children. But the law was, in fact, about preserving the white race and denying Negro rights. Interracial couples were not entitled to spousal benefits or inheritance, and neither were their children.

The Lovings did not appear in court during the case; they were living secretly in Virginia and did not want publicity. They tried their best to keep a low profile.

Cohen recalled talking to Richard Loving about the different argument they would use to support his case. His reply was simple and straight to the heart of the matter: he said, "Mr. Cohen, tell the court I love my wife and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."

"I wasn't involved with the Civil Rights Movement-I only knew what I saw on the news. We were trying to get back to Virginia. That was our goal," Mildred Loving said.

The Lovings got their victory on June 12, 1967, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, "Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides within the individual and cannot be infringed on by the state. These convictions must be reversed. It is so ordered."

And with those words delivered by Justice Earl Warren, miscegenation laws were repealed in 16 states. Despite the ruling, some states remained slow to act-Alabama was the last to do so in 2000.

Grey Villet, a staff photographer for LIFE magazine, documented the couple in April of 1965, capturing quiet, provocative images of an American family.

Villet's widow, Barbara, spoke with the AmNews about her husband's work on the project. "He exuded respect for people. He didn't play big. He worked only with available light. He never posed. He never manipulated. He stayed quiet. Working with him was just astounding because he would just disappear when he worked. That's what works when the subject is not thinking about the camera," she said.

"The Lovings adjusted to his non-presence," she continued. "He went off to shoot in April of 1965. Our daughter was born in March and was so jaundiced that she had to be hospitalized. He had to go down to shoot the Lovings' essay when she was still very sick. He was sensitive to the kids at that time because his own daughter was in jeopardy, and I think that's behind the affection that you see, the tenderness that you see, the exuberance of the kids. They were lively and happy. A good home was behind them.