53 Years Ago, Interracial Marriage was Illegal
53 years ago…
the Beatles were releasing top hits all around the world,
several thousands were protesting the Vietnam War all around the country, and
the first ever Super Bowl was played in Los Angeles, California.
Most people remember these events or were alive and witnessed them in person. There was one other historical event that happened during this same week 53 years ago (June 12, 1967). It occurred inside the U.S. Supreme Court with a decision that was made for a case called Loving v. Virginia. It was a unanimous decision made by an all-white male Supreme Court to find a law in Virginia, and any other similar state law, to be unconstitutional.
What were those laws? They were called the anti-miscegenation laws and they prohibited interracial marriage and interracial sex. That's right, it was illegal to even have sex with someone else of a different race. Some states required individuals to declare their racial background before applying for marriage licenses, some prohibited marriage between blacks and whites, while other states prohibited marriage between whites and any non-white group. U.S. citizens living in the “land of the free” were prohibited from marrying someone else if they were of a different color.
These laws were around when my parents were young and when my grandparents were married. In fact, almost all states had some sort of anti-miscegenation law, only nine states decided not to adopt them. Twenty-Five other states repealed their laws before this decision, while sixteen states were forced out of their laws by the Loving decision. (Sixteen!) It was the creation of these laws that has caused a lingering institutionalized reason for why there is still racial disparity in America today.
It’s also important to note that these laws were part of the criminal code in these states. Meaning individuals could receive jail time because they wanted to marry someone of a different race. In 1958, a black woman named Mildred Jeter married a white man named Richard Loving in Washington D.C. They then returned to their home state of Virginia and were arrested for their marriage. You can read more about their love story here.
It’s the love of this couple that forced the laws of the U.S. to change forever. Their lawyers argued that the laws were “slavery laws” and “robbed the Negro race of their dignity.” They argued that the laws were meant “…to hold the Negro class in a lower position, lower social position, the lower economic position.” In the end, the Supreme Court Justices agreed and found these state laws to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. (It’s the section of the US Constitution that prohibits individuals from being denied equal protection under the law.) The Court even said that the laws had no legitimate purpose “independent of invidious racial discrimination.”
Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Loving, U.S. citizens have the freedom to choose who they want to marry, regardless of the other person’s race (well, between a man or woman we still had work to do on same-sex marriage). However, you need to remember that it took this case to tell sixteen different states in America that their laws were unconstitutional. Why? Because those states did not think those laws were unconstitutional and were still enforcing them. Needless to say, the sentiment behind those laws is still felt to this day.
There are many in America who still believe people should not be allowed to marry outside their race. In fact, some parents have forbidden their children to do so. It’s for these reasons (and so many others) that people continue to speak out against racist actions in this country. It’s because of laws like these that white people were given privilege.
This past weekend, I joined around 30,000 other Chicagoans and marched over four miles through the city for the Black Lives Matter movement. There were zero arrests. I marched to lend my voice to the Black community and let them know I stand for them and fight for a united future. The most moving moment was walking past a high rise apartment building with so many older and younger Black individuals standing in the windows. We all chanted up at them “Black Lives Matter.”
You could see on their faces how much they appreciated the support even though it was only one day and one walk. They were the faces of some who lived through the anti-miscegenation laws. They remember those laws and we should all be reminded of them. It's these laws that have created a long lasting divide that require much more than a court ruling to overturn.
What can we do? We can start by learning more about the history of race in our country and the impact of former laws. It wasn’t so long ago that racism was legally allowed in America. In fact, you would go to jail if you didn’t support it. Just think about how much the Beatles songs still impact the world, how the Super Bowl is still celebrated, and how the frustrations over the Vietnam War are still felt to this day. These laws can still be felt, too. Maybe they are not as loudly shouted about as the other major historical events, but they are still very much present. It's time to speak about these events louder.
On June 13, 1967, one day after these laws against interracial marriage and sex were overturned, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American nominated (and later served) to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet with steps forward there are also steps back and less than one year later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It takes so much to change something so instilled in our nation. It’s why people are still marching and still making speeches.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”