Richard and Mildred Loving

Mildred Loving and Richard Loving were a shy couple. Mildred was more outgoing and talkative. Richard was a quiet man who did not have much to say at times. Mildred was a woman with African and Cherokee heritage. She was incredibly skinny. Richard was a thin man with English and Irish background. Richard loved his wife and was devoted to her. Their lawyer Bernie Cohen called them “the strangest damn couple I’ve ever seen in my life; the most mismatched I’ve ever seen.” Many people did not see Richard as someone who would go to jail for wife. Richard Loving and Mildred Loving never set out with the intention of becoming civil right hero’s. They were simply two people in love who wanted to live in their hometown Central Point.

Central Point, Virginia is a small, rural town in Caroline County that is not even shown on state maps. Racial notions and ideas were still prominent in Central Point but, without all the violence and hatred that other towns in the southern states face. Central point was described as ” the passing capital of America.” Although segregation still existed in public facilities, race was not really considered a factor in Central Point. Social interaction was not socially prohibited between residents of different races. Interracial dating was not uncommon and residents in Central Point looked the other way. Richard and Mildred Loving were not harassed for dating. In addition, in the 1960’s Central Point was a primarily black area and many black residents were able to pass as white. Richard Loving’s father even worked for a rich black farmer for years, something unheard of in other towns.1

Richard Loving was born in October 1933 and Mildred was born in July 1939. As a child Richard Loving attended a white segregated school in 1939 , his elementary school was in Sparta, a small town near Central Point. Mildred Loving went to Sycamore school, segregated black school, when she was six. It only had two classrooms and consisted of a teacher teaching first to seventh grade. There was no electricity, plumbing, or a centralized heating system. Before Mildred turned fifteen, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy vs. Ferguson that schools must desegregate. A year later Brown vs. Board of Education came to fruition which set the ground rules to follow regarding desegregating public schools. Many counties in Virginia refused to listen to the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. In 1956, the Caroline County board of supervisors decided to hold on to all school funds from the public schools instead of allowing the schools to be desegregated. In 1958, two new segregated schools were designed to open in 1959. It would take multiple rulings in the court system for desegregation to officially happen.2 Richard Loving and Mildred Loving did not graduate high school as Mildred left the eleventh grade and Richard left after the ninth grade.3

In the 1950’s, Richard Loving began visiting a friend’s home to talk about music and cars who happened to be Mildred’s older brother. He met Mildred Jeter, who was eleven at the time, and they started off as being friends. Over the years, their friendship blossomed into romance. Mildred got pregnant by an unknown man in 1956 and delivered a baby boy, named Sidney, in 1957. Richard’s mother actually helped deliver Mildred’s baby. Richard and Mildred were dating for a few years, when Mildred realized she was pregnant again in 1958. This is when they decided to officially get married.4 Mildred Jeter was eighteen and Richard Loving was twenty four when they decided to get married. Richard was the one who made the decision to get married in Washington, D.C. Mildred, at the time, did not know it interracial marriage was prohibited in Virginia. She had the idea that it was easier to get married in D.C because it would be quicker and less paperwork would be involved. Richard knew it was illegal for people of different races to marry in Virginia, but he did not know Virginia punished couples who married in another jurisdiction that returned to Virginia. Virginia was not alone in this law, plenty of other states had in their constitution that it was illegal to marry interracially in another jurisdiction and return to the state.5

Featured above is the Loving’s marriage license.6 Richard and Mildred were married at Reverends John L. Henry’s home in Washington D.C. on June 2 1958. They came back t0 Caroline County to live with Mildred’s family in the ground floor’s bedroom and hung their marriage license on the wall.7 Richard Loving began plans to build a home for the newlywedded couple and for the baby on the way. Their happiness did not last long unfortunately. Three policemen, including acting Sherriff Garnett Brooks broke into their unlocked home in the middle of the night. The reason for three police officers is because Brooks was afraid of retaliation from the close community of Central Point. It is a well known fact that he made the arrest at night time because he could for certain charge the Loving’s with cohabitation. One is not sure why Brooks was afraid of violence from the Central Point community as Brooks is a large man with huge arms and hands. In addition, he was a racist police officer who was quite known for hating black people. When Brooks and the other two officers broke into Mildred’s parents home, they shun a flashlight down at the Loving’s faces. Brooks asked Richard what he was doing in bed with “that woman.” Richard was silent. Mildred told Brooks that she was Richards wife. Richard showed Brooks the marriage license on the wall.8 The Loving’s were charged with unlawful cohabitation and were arrested on July 11th, 1958.9

The Loving’s were taken to the county jail Bowling Green. The conditions of the building were incompetent, dirty, and there was no kitchen. Richard Loving was released from bail the next day, but Mildred was not released for a couple days. Mildred felt frightened in the jail cell all by herself and the jailor spoke about allowing a white male prisoner in Mildred’s cell.10 Richard Loving and Mildred Loving were found guilty of cohabitation by Justice of the Peace Edward Stehl III. The judge sentenced them to appear before a grand jury. Lawyer Frank Beazely represented them in the grand jury. Judge Leon Bazile sentenced the Loving’s from being banished from Virginia for twenty five years. Normally, the Loving’s would have received a felony charge, but Beazely had done a favor for Bazile a long time ago, resulting in Bazile giving the Loving’s a lighter sentencing. The Loving’s were still allowed to visit Virginia, but separately. Once when the Loving’s visited in March 1959 together to spend time with family for Easter, they were arrested and charged with violating their parole. Thankfully, Beazely was able to get the charges dismissed. The Loving’s returned to Washington D.C. incredibly unhappy and mournful they could not live in Central Point.11

Richard Loving’s arrest warrant12

  1. Phyl Newbeck, Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving ( Illinois: Southern Illinois University, 2008), 10-22. ↩︎
  2. Peter Wallenstein, Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry: Loving V. Virginia( Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2014), 75- 78. ↩︎
  3. Newbeck, Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers, 10. ↩︎
  4. Wallenstein, Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry, 79-80. ↩︎
  5. Newbeck, Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers, 10. ↩︎
  6. National Archives NextGen Catalog. “Marriage License for Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Delores Jeter”, ↩︎
  7. Wallenstein, Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry, 80 ↩︎
  8. Newbeck, Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers, 11-12 ↩︎
  9. “Loving v. Virginia: 1967 & Supreme Court Case – History.” November 17, 2017. ↩︎
  10. Wallenstein, Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry, 81-82 ↩︎
  11. Newbeck, Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers, 13-15 ↩︎
  12. National Archives NextGen Catalog. “State of Virginia, County of Caroline Commonwealth Warrant of Arrest vs. Richard Loving”, ↩︎