Woman Who Defeated Cross-Racial Marriage Ban Dies

Published May 6, 2008

Posted May 6, 2008 – Mildred Loving, the Black woman who dared to challenge Virginia’s racist law against interracial marriage and altered history in the process, has died, according to her daughter.

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“I want (people) to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believed in love," Peggy Fortune told The Associated Press.

Loving, 68, died Friday. Fortune did not disclose the cause of death.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Loving and her White husband, Richard, had the right to marry, striking down laws in 17 states banning cross-racial marriages.

"There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause," the court ruled unanimously.

Mildred Jeter was 11 years old when she started dating 17-year-old Richard, who died in 1975. A few years into their relationship, AP reports, Mildred became pregnant. She and Richard married in 1958 when she was 18. She told AP last year that she didn’t even know their marriage was illegal.

"I think my husband knew," Mildred said. "I think he thought (if) we were married, they couldn't bother us."

He was wrong.

A few weeks later, the couple was arrested after returning to returned to Central Point, Va., their hometown in Caroline County, a rural community north of Richmond, AP reports. They pleaded guilty to "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” but were spared a jail sentence by promising to leave Virginia. They left for Washington, but after several years, they decided to challenge the law.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy referred the case to the Civil Liberties Union. They avoided jail time by agreeing to leave Virginia — the only home they'd known — for 25 years. They moved to Washington for several years, then launched a legal challenge by writing to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred the case to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The law that threatened the Lovings with a year in jail was a vestige of a hateful, discriminatory past that could not stand in the face of the Lovings' quiet dignity," said Steven Shapiro, national legal director for the ACLU, according to AP.  After the high court ruled, they moved back to Virginia.

"We loved each other and got married," she told The Washington Evening Star in 1965, when the case was pending. "We are not marrying the state. The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants." She said she never tried to be a hero. "It wasn't my doing," Loving said. "It was God's work."

Richard Loving died in a car accident.

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Written by BET-Staff

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