By Kyra-Lianne Samuels
Laws in opposition to interracial marriages and relationships are known as ‘anti-miscegenation’ or ‘miscegenation’ laws. The intention behind these laws was to further support white supremacy. By punishing interracial couples with fines, arrest, imprisonment, or the refusal to legally acknowledge their marriages, segregation was being enforced (“The Loving Day Story,” n.d.). While these laws were primarily aimed towards relationships between white and black people, they could also be applied more generally to ban relationships between white people and any other racial group (“The Loving Day Story,” n.d.). By banning these relationships, the idea that love between people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds was legitimate was being undermined. Sadly, many people can relate to the reality of not having their relationship condoned because of their racial or ethnic background. When it comes to acceptance with regards to race or ethnicity, we’ve definitely come a long way, but the path hasn’t been easy and it’s important to acknowledge those who helped speed things up along the way.
In this case, it is important to refer to the historical context in which the occurrence that will be discussed here, namely the Loving v. Virginia decision, took place. By the late 1960s, the U.S. had been steadily on the rise as a dominant country for decades already, taking the global lead on many different fields. According to Erskine (1973), the United States was also the leader of the western world when it came to opposition against interracial marriage in the later years of the mid-20th century. By looking at different World Gallup polls with regards to interracial marriages and relationships, Erskine (1973) was able to conclude that, at the time, Americans showed a higher disapproval rate than any other country surveyed, with only 6% of the participants saying they approved of relationships between white people and people of color. This disapproval went beyond widespread scorn seeing as the societal disapproval was supported by legal means.
In 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in Washington, DC, approximately 217 kilometers away from their hometown, Virginia (“The Loving Day Story,” n.d.). It was undoubtedly a day of celebration, but they were both unaware of what was to come. According to “The Loving Day Story” (n.d.) they had gone to Washington to avoid the laws banning interracial marriage in Virginia, just to be told that getting married elsewhere and then returning was just as punishable. Nine years after being forced to leave Virginia to avoid arrest, the Lovings decided enough was enough and fought for the right to be able to both live in their hometown and have their marriage recognized. Years would pass before the Lovings would finally witness their case reach the Supreme Court. The court reached a concordant decision, the official verdict being made on the 12th of June 1967, and allowed the marriage. This decision would go on to further impact laws against interracial marriage.
All the remaining anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S. states would be struck down with the Loving v. Virginia decision made by the Supreme Court (“The Loving Day Story,” n.d.). Not only did this decision mean a lot to the couple in question, but it can also be seen as a considerable step in the right direction for the American Civil Rights movement. Newport (2013) writes how in 1968, the year after the case had been finalized, the Gallup poll saw a rise in acceptance, with approval of mixed-race marriages up to 20%. This indicated a change in attitude towards mixed relationships, and it was a change for the better.
Loving Day is a day where we can bring attention to people who are affiliated with the concept of being mixed race or who come from a multi-ethnic background. The Loving Day event is held once a year and is a time when people can come together to not only celebrate their mixed heritage, but also to learn both from and about it. Diversity is important and to be able to see others who are also interested in this part of themselves can do wonders for a person’s identity. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in the Loving Day Event hosted in the Netherlands last year and I was glad to do so. Through hearing about the experiences of others, I was better able to put my own experiences into perspective. More importantly, others recounting their stories is just one more situation in which I was faced head on with the fact that I am not alone in my experiences.
From that moment onwards, Loving Day was able to grow into something recognizable in different corners of the world. Named “Loving Day” after the couple who made the removal of laws banning interracial marriages possible, the twelfth of June is just one more day to globally spread awareness, visibility, and knowledge. On this day, the focus lies on interracial relationships and on the act of having mixed heritage. Through the actions of Mildred and Richard Loving, the world was moved one step closer towards acceptance and racial equality. Once a year, the struggles of this couple are commemorated.
While the U.S. was able to take the foremost position in the fight against miscegenation in the later days of the mid-1900s, eventually attention would be brought to the unfairness of the laws opposing this type of union. Because of Mildred and Richard Loving the process to equal opportunities was accelerated. Loving Day has continued to grow and is now a day to celebrate mixed relationships and everything positive that comes along with it, while also acknowledging the hardships involved. What started out as a love between two people was able to help bring many more together, and this deserves to be recognized.
Erskine, H. (1973). The Polls: Interracial Socializing. Public Opinion Quarterly, 37(2), 283. https://doi.org/10.1086/268087
Newport, F. (2013). In U.S., 87% Approve of Black-White Marriage, vs. 4% in 1958. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/
The Loving Day Story. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://lovingday.org/
Cover image by Désirée Fawn and Jenna Jacobs on Unsplash