What color is love? If you fell in love before 1967, then love was white or black but never both at the same time.
If, by some miracle, you were able to look past the racism that was so firmly entrenched in American society, or, if you could see a future filled with happiness even if your friends and family ostracized you, or you could image a world where your mixed ‘race’ children would be accepted by society, then, maybe…just maybe…love came in a variety of colors.
For many people, history is just too long ago. And sadly, every day we lose another person who lived during a time of great change. Soon, we won’t have a collective memory of the reasons why we’ve done things a certain way for so long.
For instance, why does my birth certificate identify my mother as ‘negro’ and my father as ‘white’ and why does A’s birth certificate identify me as ‘black’ and her father as ‘Hispanic’? Why, indeed.
We can thank the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” for this little gem of racist history. In 1924, the Virginia General Assembly passed two separate laws to try to alleviate fears about race and eugenics: The Racial Integrity Act and The Sterilization Act. Both laws were in response to lobbying done by ‘pure race’ groups in the state. The laws were based on the ‘one drop rule’ so even if you had to go back a couple of generations to find a black ancestor, once you’d found them…tag, you’re black.
Race is such a difficult conversation to have in this country. We’re a nation of immigrants trying to prove that everyone else doesn’t belong here except for us. Amazing that we’ve come as far as we have in the whole discussion, even though we are years away from being post-racial. Even that term is a joke.
But back to love…
Mildred Jeter, a mixed race woman almost always referred to as ‘negro’ married Richard Loving, a white man, in Washington, DC. After their wedding, the Lovings moved back to their home state of Virginia and set about raising children and doing the normal things couples do: pay taxes, attend church, and love one another. That wasn’t good enough for Virginia, which had anti-miscegenation laws at the time, so in 1959 the Lovings were arrested and sentenced to one year in jail. The judge in their case, apparently attempting to be ‘nice’, suspended their sentence for 25 years under the condition that they leave the state for a minimum of 25 years.
Shocking, right? What’s more shocking is that even though they left Virginia, they decided to fight their banning, which they believed violated their 14th Amendment rights. Four years later, the United States Supreme Court heard their case and, in a landmark and unanimous decision, declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional and overturned Pace vs. Alabama, effectively ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
45 years…That’s how long it’s been alright for Americans to fall in love, and marry the person they choose, without fear of being arrested or exiled from their homes. That’s not a very long time in the story of our country. In fact, it is a blink of an eye. For anyone 60 or older, there is probably a memory of when it wasn’t okay to look past color when dating. And as you look around at the people you know who remember the pre-Loving days, you should wonder: What did they believe and why?
The Lovings weren’t activists. They weren’t trouble-makers and they weren’t looking for fame. What they were was a couple in love who wanted to watch their children grow and who wanted to grow old together. Sadly, Richard died in 1975. That gave the Lovings only eight years of ‘legal’ freedom to be in love. How awful that in a country of such freedoms, the right to love was held in separate but equal chapels.
My parents married in 1965 and, like the Lovings, they weren’t allowed to live in Virginia, which is where my dad was stationed while serving his country. So my mom lived in one state and my dad lived in another. And I am positive that did not do justice to their marriage or their love.
Still, I am thankful to the Lovings because without their willingness to fight for what they believed in, I, and many other mixed race children, might not have been born.
While Black History Month goes through so many ups and downs each year, depending on who you ask, I’ll do what I have done every year for the past 29 years…I’ll thank the Lovings, and my mother, for showing a ten-year old girl that color doesn’t matter – only love.
For more about the Lovings:
If you’re in NYC, visit: http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/loving-story-photographs-grey-villet through May 6, 2012
Or, if you have HBO, there is an amazing documentary out now that first aired on February 14, 2012.
**Photo attribute on main blog post: Estate of Doliski Mozeleski-Norton, owned by Dee Dee Mozeleski (2012)