Wednesday, February 15, 2012
THE LOVING STORY
This documentary came out last year on the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court case that ended laws against interracial marriages. I knew the story well, knew about the documentary but only watched it fully last night and was moved to tears.
The Lovings (and how appropriate was their name, if you used it in a novel everyone would think it was too obvious) were a "white" man and a "colored" woman, as the law labeled them in 1958 when they married legally in the District of Columbia but then returned to their native state of Virginia where they had grown up near each other and where their families and friends lived.
He was a typical looking Southern young white man with a well kept crewcut who if you saw him in a newspaper photo you'd figure he was a "redneck" and probably racist or at least a staunch segregationist like many in the South then. But he fell in love with his wife and wanted to be with her forever so they married in The District of Columbia where it was legal and returned to their home in Virginia.
But in the middle of the night the sheriff invaded their home and threw them in jail for cohabitating illegally. They went to trial and the judge said God created the races to be separate and used all the standard arguments from back then that would have fit well into some 14th century argument not the 20th Century.
They were found guilty and could not legally spend the night together in their own home and state so they moved temporarily with their growing family (they had three children eventually) to DC but came back to visit family and sometimes spent the night at a realtives with everyone looking out for the sheriff.
Loving was a seemingly stern man who talked little, but made it clear he simply wanted to be able to live in his own home near his family and hers and have a normal life with his wife, the woman he made it clear he loved. She took the advise of a relative and wrote Bobby Kennedy when he was the US Attorney General for help. He advised her to go to the ACLU and she wrote to them, a beautifully and intelligently composed letter that is read in the film by one of the ACLU lawyers who at the time took on their case.
There's lots of good footage from the 'sixties when the case went through a few trials before finally being heard by The US Supreme Court which unanimously overturned all laws against interracial marriage (I wonder if it would be unanimous today if those laws still existed, as they do for gay marriage, under the current rightwing dominated court). But it took almost ten years from their marriage, 1967, for that to happen.
I was engaged to a "colored" woman (as she too was called in those days, or Negro) in 1962. There were only thirteen states where we could marry legally then, including New Jersey where we both were from, though she had moved to Manhattan, where it was legal too. But because we weren't yet twenty-one we needed our parents permission and our fathers were both against it for different reasons.
What many people don't realize is this wasn't just a Southern thing (though it wasn't until 2000 that I think it was Alabama, but it might be Mississippi, finally actually took their law against interracial marriage off the books). In fact, if you look at the last holdouts later in the 1960s it pretty much matches what are now known as "the red states."
It seems incredible to me, especially after watching the night before the SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME documentary, that first of all it's a miracle that we have the president we do, but more importantly it's ridiculous to compare so-called "races" and their social and business skills and success using the end of The Civil War as a founding period of African-American freedom when SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME proves a form of slavery for mostly black men was instituted after The Civil War and lasted in the South right up until the 1940s and laws against marrying someone from another race, based on the idea that whites had to protect themselves from their blood becoming impure or polluted, lasted up until 1967!
Obviously even though most forms of legal segregation are gone there is still plenty of racism around along with the effects of a lack of freedom of choice for many if not most African Americans up until very recently. To deprive Mrs. Loving, who come across in the documentary as the sweetest most soft spoken and gentle person you'd ever want to meet, to deprive her of the right to marry the man she loved and who loved her because of supposed skin color? Outrageous. It made no sense to me even as a little boy in the 1940s and continued to make no sense.
And yet here we are in 2012 with presidential candidates vying for how strongly they are against two gay persons who love each other having the legal right to marry. Watch this documentary and you will hear the arguments back then sound exactly like they do now, including the judge making the point that if we allow "coloreds" and "whites" to marry then what about polygamy or a sister and brother marrying and all that speciousness.
Man, the right pretends to love freedom but they've proven throughout history that they're basically scared to death of real freedom. The freedom to be yourself and do what you want if it isn't harming anyone, whether it offends some people or not. And the right to be treated equally under the law.