Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wednesday is Loving Day and Red Rose Day

And, no, these two observances are not really related, although your significant other may find it a loving gesture were you to present her (or him, I suppose) with a red rose on Wednesday. Red Rose Day commemorates the flower, the rose, thorns and all, that may be blooming in your garden this month or which may be part of the bridal bouquet of a June bride.

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving. Photo from Wikipedia.
Loving Day, on the other hand, recalls the struggle of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving to live together as husband and wife in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The couple were married in June 1958 in Washington, D.C. (where interracial marriage was not prohibited) but returned to live together as man and wife in Virgina. In 1958, in Virginia, that was considered a crime. Local authorities burst into the Lovings' home and arrested them. They were prosecuted criminally, found guilty, and sentenced to a year in jail. However, according to Wikipedia, the sentence was "suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. They did so, moving to the District of Columbia."

The Lovings moved.

But times were tough in the District and they chafed at being unable to visit family in Virginia so, quoting again from Wikipedia (footnotes omitted):
Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU filed a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violated statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment. This set in motion a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

On October 28, 1964, after the Lovings' motion still had not been decided, they brought a class action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. On January 22, 1965, the three-judge district court decided to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry L. Carrico (later Chief Justice of the Court) wrote an opinion for the court upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the criminal convictions. Ignoring United States Supreme Court precedent, Carrico cited as authority the Virginia Supreme Court's own decision in Naim v. Naim (1955), also arguing that the case at hand was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause because both the white and the non-white spouse were punished equally for the crime of miscegenation, an argument similar to that made by the United States Supreme Court in 1883 in Pace v. Alabama.

The Lovings, supported by the ACLU, appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. They did not attend the oral arguments in Washington, but their lawyer, Bernard S. Cohen, conveyed the message he had been given by Richard Loving to the court: "Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia.
On June 12, 1967 a unanimous United States Supreme Court struck down Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute, invalidating similar statutes in several other states.

You may see this as merely an uncomfortable artifact of our nation's unhappy history of race relations, not relevant in our modern, enlightened world -- but a recent Cheerios commercial, of all things, has sparked controversy with its use of an interracial family to sell the cereal. We have come a long way, perhaps, but we're not there yet. Loving Day is still all too relevant.

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