Brown v. Board of Education. Plessy v. Ferguson. The list of notable court cases that blazed the trail for civil rights in our nation is long, but there is one case that many have forgotten but is no less important: Loving v. Virginia.
Now, decades after this case was decided, a group of images taken by a Life magazine photographer of the iconic couple and their family graces the walls of the International Center of Photography. “The Loving Story: Photographs by Grey Villet” goes on display Jan. 20 and tells the story of two of the bravest civil rights pioneers that most people have forgotten.
In 1958, Mildred Jeter, a woman of African and Native American descent, and Richard Perry Loving were married in Washington, D.C. The only problem was that they were residents of Virginia, where under the racial Integrity Act, marriages between whites and non-whites were banned, including marriages conducted out of state. When they returned home, they were charged with the crime.
In 1963, after they moved to D.C, they and the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the law. Four years later, in 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided in favor of the Lovings, striking down the Racial Integrity Act down as unconstitutional.
What is so amazing about this case was that the plaintiffs were ordinary people, not civil rights activists. They simply wanted to love and for their love to be recognized by the state, something other Americans are currently fighting for today. These images show a remarkably normal couple living the American dream in their home with their children, offspring the Virginia law would have banned if it could.
“Villet’s intimate access to the Lovings and his tender images show us a side of the couple and their three children the monumental case could not. In fighting for their right to life as husband and wife in their home state, the Lovings, who were not active in the Civil Rights Movement, changed American culture and politics. As marriage equality gains support and the first mixed-race U.S. president finishes his first term, the case continues to have relevance,” said ICP assistant curator of collections Erin Barnett, who organized the exhibition, in a press statement.
The power of photography and photojournalism to reach across the divide of understanding is not to be understated. This exhibition helps bring that idea home.
The exhibition is on display Jan. 20 through May 6 at at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Sixth Ave. at 43rd Street. For more information, visit www.icp.org or call (212) 857-0045.