Learn about and learn from Loving v Virginia

promotional poster for the documentary film, 'The Loving Story'Nancy Biurski is the director of The Loving Story, a documentary film featuring rare and never-before-seen archival footage and still images from behind the scenes of the watershed civil rights case Loving v. Virginia. The unanimous 1967 Supreme Court decision in the case overturned all remaining anti-miscegenation laws in America, and it allowed Richard and Mildred Loving to go home to Virginia, where they had been arrested and convicted on felony charges for committing the crime of interracial marriage.

The Loving Story will be shown on Thursday November 3rd at 10 a.m. at the Carolina Theatre in Durham (309 W. Morgan Street). Students, educators and the general public are invited to come. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the director, producer, and writer. The screening is part of the FullFrame Youth Program.

In 2009, UNC Press published Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law by Fay Botham.  The book examines the role religious belief played out in the courtroom over controversial marriages in American history, including Mildred and Richard Loving and their legal battle in Virginia.

The following is an excerpt from the introduction of Almighty God Created the Races (pp. 1-3)


In early June 1958, eighteen-year-old Mildred Delores Jeter and twenty-four-year-old Richard Perry Loving drove from their hometown of Central Point, Virginia, to Washington, D.C. Sweethearts for some six years, Mildred who was part black and part Cherokee with a light brown complexion, and Richard, who was of English-Irish descent, had decided to get married in the District of Columbia. Once their union was legalized there, they returned home to Central Point and began to build their life together.

The Lovings’ matrimonial bliss ended abruptly about five weeks later. During the wee hours of a sultry July morning, three Caroline County police officers entered the Lovings’ home through their unlocked front door. Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks and his two deputies found their way into the couple’s bedroom, shined a flashlight in their faces, and demanded to know what they were doing in bed together. When Mildred answered, “I’m his wife,” and Richard directed the officers to the District of Columbia marriage certificate that hung on the wall, Sheriff Brooks curtly informed them that their marriage was invalid in the State of Virginia. [1] He then arrested the bewildered young couple and hauled them off to jail. There they were charged with having violated Virginia Code 20-54, which prohibited inter-racial marriage, and Code 20-58, which prohibited “any white person and colored person” from leaving Virginia to evade Code 20-54.[2]

A few months later in January 1959, a Caroline County grand jury indicted Mildred and Richard for having “unlawfully and feloniously go[ne] out of the State of Virginia, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning to the State of Virginia,” and for “cohabiting as man and wife against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.”[3] The Lovings pleaded guilty to the charges, and the Honorable Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced each to one year in the Caroline County Jail. A compassionate man, the judge suspended the jail sentence, sparing the couple from an experience behind bars and from time away from their new baby boy, born in 1958. But he did so only on the condition that they agree to leave Virginia and not return together for twenty-five-years.[4] The heart-broken couple, effectively banished from their own state, then went to live with relatives in Washington, D.C.

[. . . ]

On 12 June 1967, after nine years of fighting for the legality of their marriage, Mildred and Richard Loving at last received the news they had awaited: The [U.S. Supreme] Court ruled that Virginia’s antimiscegenation laws violated Americans’ Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law, and that such laws were therefore unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the Court’s unanimous opinion. “Under our Constitution,” he stated, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”[5] Affirming the civil rather than the religious right to marry, the decision ended the nation’s three-hundred-year history of laws prohibiting marriage across the color line. And for perhaps the first time in American history, a federal court held the individual’s right to choose a spouse above the state’s right to create and enact marriage laws.

In all the years of legal wrangling and media attention in the Loving case, religion appeared explicitly in only two places: in Judge Bazile’s now-famous statement about God having created the races, and in an amicus curiae brief that a group of Catholic ordinaries filed on behalf of the Lovings. [ . . . ] In both of these places where religion appears, interesting questions arise. What are the historical origins of Judge Bazile’s strange statement about God having “separated the races”? Did it have anything to do with the fact that he was Roman Catholic? How did such a notion make its way into American law? Why did the coalition of Catholics file a brief on behalf of the Lovings, who were Protestant? And more broadly, what do these two instances reveal about the historical relationships between Christianity, race, and marriage law?


From ALMIGHTY GOD CREATED THE RACES: CHRISTIANITY, INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE, & AMERICAN LAW by Fay Botham. Copyright (c) 2011 by the University of North Carolina Press.

Fay Botham is visiting assistant professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She is coeditor of Race, Religion, Region: Landscapes of Encounter in the American West.

  1. [1] The racial descriptions of the Lovings and the details of the events preceding their arrests come from an essay by Robert A. Pratt, who grew up in Central Point and who had played with the Lovings’ children when he was a child. Mildred Loving agreed to be interviewed by him in 1994. See Pratt, “Crossing the Color Line,” 234-35.
  2. [2] Volume 4 of Virginia’s 1950 Codes on intermarriage, quoted in “Jurisdictional Statement,” In the Matter of the Application of Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Delores Jeter Loving, in Kurland and Casper, Landmark Briefs and Arguments, 694-95.
    Code 20-54 Stipulates:
    “Intermarriage prohibited: meaning of term ‘white persons.’– It shall here-after be unlawful for any white person in this state to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white and American Indian. For the purpose of this chapter, the term ‘white person’ shall apply to only such persons as has no trace whatever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons. All laws heretofore passed and now in effect regarding the intermarriage of white and colored persons shall apply to marriages prohibited by this chapter.” (Kurland and Casper, Landmark Briefs and Arguments, 695.)

    Code 20-58 Stipulates:
    “Leaving State to evade law.–If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be Married out of it, and afterwards return to and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in [Code] 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State. The fact of their cohabitation here as man and wife shall be evidence of their marriage.” (Ibid., 694.)

  3. [3] Quote taken from Arrest Warrants for Richard Loving and Mildred Delores Jeter, 11 July 1958, Loving Case File, Commonwealth of Virginia, County of Carolina v. Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter , Central Rapphannock Heritage Center, Fredericksburg, Va. Hereinafter cited as LCF.
  4. [4] According to Byron Curti Martyn, the couple had planned to plead not guilty but upon the judge’s promises of leniency, they waived the jury trial and pleaded guilty. See Martyn, “Racism in the United States,” 1300-301
  5. [5]Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967).