The Lovings: A Battle for Interracial Love

A new film focuses on the little-known man and wife who fought to make their marriage legal

By Mary Kate Frank
Richard and Mildred Loving image
The Lovings in hiding: Thrown out of Virginia for marrying outside their race, the couple (in 1965) secretly returned.
Photograph: Grey Villete/Courtesy of HBO

 

“This is not about civil rights,” says director Nancy Buirski of her documentary. “It’s about human rights.” The Loving Story (debuting February 14 on HBO) recounts the midcentury struggle of Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a part black, part Native American woman, to have their marriage recognized. The couple wed in 1958, but their home state of Virginia declared the union illegal. Jailed, then banished from Virginia, they spent nine years fighting the ruling. “They were not activists,” says Buirski, “but they realized their case could make a difference.”

 

It did. In 1967 the Supreme Court ruled for the Lovings, overturning bans on interracial marriage in 16 states. (Alabama was the last to comply, in 2000.)

 

The case caught Buirski’s interest when she read Mildred’s2008 obituary (Richard died in a car accident in 1975). Relying on classic Lifephotos and newly discovered footage of the couple, as well as interviews with their daughter, lawyers and friends, Buirski revisits a turning point in American society. “Now is the ideal time for the Lovings’ story,” she says, “as more people discover that their own heritage is mixed.” And the number of black-white marriages in the U.S. has risen: as high as 14.4 percent in 2008, triple what it was 20 years ago.

 

“Marrying who you want to is an important freedom,” says Buirski. “And if we didn’t care about skin color, I think there would be a lot more love in the world.”

 

Want MORE? Read about the happiest couple in America.

 

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First Published January 3, 2012

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