Economist obit on Mildred Loving, defeater of US anti-miscegenation laws



Hi Blog.  Here’s an interesting article on two people who just did what they did, but with conviction and perseverance, and managed to overturn a horrible legal situation in the US which I would find hard to believe ever existed in post-Meiji Japan (from Lafcadio Hearn’s marriage on down, to our credit!)–a legal ban on interracial relationships and marriage!  Read on–it’s hard to believe a lot of this happened within my lifetime!  Debito


Mildred Loving, law-changer, died on May 2nd, aged 68
May 15th 2008
From The Economist print edition

THEY loved each other. That must have been why they decided to get their marriage certificate framed and to hang it up in the bedroom of their house. There was little else in the bedroom, save the bed. Certainly nothing worth locking the front door for on a warm July night in 1958 in Central Point, Virginia. No one came this way, ten miles off the Richmond Turnpike into the dipping hills and the small, poor, scattered farmhouses, unless they had to. But Mildred Loving was suddenly woken to the crash of a door and a torch levelled in her eyes.

All the law enforcement of Caroline county stood round the bed: Sheriff Garnett Brooks, his deputy and the jailer, with guns at their belts. They might have caught them in the act. But as it was, the Lovings were asleep. All the men saw was her black head on the pillow, next to his.

She didn’t even think of it as a Negro head, especially. Her hair could easily set straight or wavy. That was because she had Indian blood, Cherokee from her father and Rappahannock from her mother, as well as black. All colours of people lived in Central Point, blacks with milky skin and whites with tight brown curls, who all passed the same days feeding chickens or smelling tobacco leaves drying, and who all had to use different counters from pure whites when they ate lunch in Bowling Green. They got along. If there was any race Mrs Loving considered herself, it was Indian, like Princess Pocahontas. And Pocahontas had married a white man.

The sheriff asked her husband: “What are you doing in bed with this lady?” Richard Loving didn’t answer. He never said much for himself, being just a country bricklayer with a single year of high school behind him. Mrs Loving had known him since she was 11 and he was 17, a gangly white boy who took her out for years and did the decent thing when he got her pregnant, by asking her to marry him. She thought he might have known that their marriage was illegal—a strange marriage, driving 80 miles to Washington, DC, to be married almost secretly by a pastor who wasn’t theirs, just picked out of the telephone book, and then driving back again. But they hadn’t talked about legalities. She felt lucky just to have him.

She told the sheriff, “I’m his wife.” And Mr Loving, roused at last, pointed to the framed certificate above the bed. “That’s no good here,” Sheriff Brooks said.

Mrs Loving had said the wrong thing. Had they just been going together, black and white, no one would have cared much. But they had formalised their love, and had the paperwork. This meant that under Virginia law they were cohabiting “against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth”. It was a felony for blacks and whites to marry, and another felony to leave Virginia to do so. Fifteen other states had similar laws. The Lovings had to get up and go to jail. “The Lord made sparrows and robins, not to mix with one another,” as Sheriff Brooks said later.

In separate cars
Faced with a year in jail or exile, they chose to go to Washington for 25 years. Mrs Loving hated it. She was “crying the blues all the time,” missing Central Point, despite the fact that they would slip back there in separate cars, first she and the children, then Richard, casually strolling from opposite directions to meet and embrace in the twilight. Only Sheriff Brooks cared that they were married, and they avoided him.

But Mrs Loving wanted to return for good. When the Civil Rights Act was being debated in 1963, she wrote to Robert Kennedy, the attorney-general, to ask whether the prospective law would make it easier for her to go home. He told her it wouldn’t, but that she should ask the American Civil Liberties Union to take on her case. Within a year or so, two clever New York lawyers were working free for the Lovings. By 1967 they had obtained a unanimous ruling from Earl Warren’s Supreme Court that marriage was “one of the basic civil rights of man”, which “cannot be infringed by the state”. The Lovings were free to go home and live together, in a new cinder-block house Richard built himself.

The constitutional arguments had meant nothing to them. Their chief lawyer, Bernard Cohen, had based his case in the end on the equal-rights clause of the 14th amendment, and was keen that the Lovings should listen to him speak. But they did not attend the hearings or read the decision. Richard merely urged Mr Cohen, “Tell the court I love my wife.” For Mildred, all that mattered was being able to walk down the street, in view of everyone, with her husband’s arm around her. It was very simple. If she had helped many others do the same, so much the better.

She had never been an activist, and never became one. When June 12th, the day of the ruling, was proclaimed “Loving Day” as an unofficial celebration of interracial couples—who still make up only 4% of marriages in America—she produced a statement, but she was never a public figure. She lived quietly in Caroline county, as before. Her widowhood was long, after Richard was killed in a car accident in 1975, but she never thought of replacing him. They loved each other.


More on America’s anti-miscegenation laws here.  Particularly surprising is the history back and forth within Louisiana regarding banning and unbanning interracial relations–including reinstatement of ban by American authorities in 1806 after the Louisiana Purchase!


4 comments on “Economist obit on Mildred Loving, defeater of US anti-miscegenation laws

  • E.P, Lowe says:

    It’s an interesting story, especially in that archaic state laws were having such an effect in a republic founded on the principle that:

    “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    How does this bear on Japan?

    Well, in Japan – or so it seems to me, the countless layers of government can add their own twists and turns to the laws of the land.

    I recall reading recently that a ward in Tokyo decided that resident children who can claim dual nationality have to give up their foreign passport before receiving a Japanese one. Of course this is absurd – but what is being done about this infringement on personal freedom?

    I also read that in the 1990s Shizuoka-ken prevented foreigners from applying for National Insurance – a xenophobic and cruel thing to do. Who knows, this may have had serious consequences on people. Not having free access to medical services is wrong.

    Now, these are more about interpretation of the law than the law itself – but what’s to stop this happening in the future, perhaps on the back of some anti-foreigner hysteria?

  • E.P, Lowe,
    It seems you have some information which deserves further attention in this blog, provided it is true. Would you share with us the specifics about those cases?

    “Less hearsay and more facts please.” was your statement in the Burma post.

  • E.P. Lowe says:

    Hi Ho,

    >It seems you have some information which deserves further attention in
    >this blog, provided it is true. Would you share with us the specifics
    >about those cases?

    I couldn’t recall where I read those at the time, but I’ve tracked them down now. Look to the bottom of the post.

    >“Less hearsay and more facts please.” was your statement in the Burma post.

    Well, in the case of Burma there are serious academic works on it’s history, and in any case you were making sweeping and general statements like “…they hate the British more than anything…”.

    The stories I read were about individual decisions by prefectural and local governments in Japan – sadly areas lacking serious academic works to reference.

    And now, here’s the links:

    *Shizuoka ‘no-foreigners’ Health system:


    After Japan’s first court victory citing international treaty in a racial discrimination case (Ana Bortz vs. Seibido Trading, 1999), which just happened to take place in his city, Mayor Kitawaki in October 2001 convened a meeting of 13 cities from six prefectures with high foreign worker populations. Issuing a historical document entitled the “Hamamatsu Sengen” (Hamamatsu Declaration), these government heads demanded the national government create policy guaranteeing foreigners the modicum of social welfare entitled to every worker and resident of Japan. (At the time even the regional government, Shizuoka Prefecture, refused to grant National Health Insurance (Kokumin Kenkou Hoken) to foreigners–because, they argued, they weren’t nationals!) Kitawaki and company submitted this proposal to Tokyo Mandarinland Kasumigaseki in November 2001, where it was duly ignored.”


    Give up your passports kids!

    Comment 14:

    Tokyo’s Minato Ward Hunts Dual Nationals

    Tokyo’s Minato Ward, which probably has the highest percentage of non-Japanese residents of any jurisdiction in Japan, is among the most aggressive in hunting dual nationals. If a Japanese citizen goes to the Minato Ward Office to file the Notice Of Choosing Japanese Citizenship (the official form stating that a Japanese citizen with potential dual nationality has decided to take Japanese nationality before their 22nd birthday), Minato Ward will refuse to accept the form for processing unless the applicant also produces their foreign passport. The official explanation is that “if an applicant does not have a foreign passport, the applicant does not need to file this form.” This is wrong as a matter of law (a person can have a nationality without having a passport from that nation). Also, refusing to accept a form is a classic abuse of Japanese administrative power.

  • E.P. Lowe says:

    I thought there’d be a bit more discussion here. Ah well, I’ll forge forward.

    Both cases show that the rights foreigners enjoy in Japan are not granted by law, but by favour.

    In the first case, “The no-foreigners health system” a mayor got like-minded municipalities to treat foreigners as persons with the same entitlements as citizens. – Favour

    In the second, “Give up your passports kids!” a Tokyo ward decided that kids who could be dual nationals were dual nationals, and so had to give up passports – which they might not have. Illogical, and an example of Disfavour.

    What one mayor can give, another can take away. What one ward can decide, another can decide against.

    It’s all very good that we have, in my experience, mostly good municipalities. However, a change in political climate could overturn that.

    We need guaranteed human rights, and considering there are authors who think we shouldn’t have human rights – the sooner the better!


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