/ 9 May 2008

Pioneer of US inter-racial marriages dies

Mildred Jeter Loving was a shy, unassuming black woman who never expected to make history when her landmark 1967 Supreme Court case ended the ban on interracial marriages in the United States.

Loving (68) died on May 2 of pneumonia at her home in the town of Milford, Virginia, US news media reported. It was the same state that arrested her decades earlier on charges of “illegal cohabitation” for sleeping with her white husband.

In the historic 1967 ruling in the case of “Loving vs Virginia,” the US Supreme Court ruled that the ban on mixed racial marriages was unconstitutional. The decision affected similar laws in Virginia and 16 other US states.

In a June 2007 speech on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Loving said that she and her husband “had no intention of battling over the law” when they married.

Loving refused to believe she made history, even when the preacher of her church compared her to rights trailblazer Rosa Parks, according to the Washington Post.

Richard Loving was killed by a drunk driver in a 1975 car accident, which also left Loving blind in one eye.

In 1958, then 17-year-old Loving married Richard Loving, a 23-year-old white construction worker, at a time when mixed marriages were forbidden in their native state of Virginia.

The couple travelled to neighbouring Washington DC to marry, then returned to live in Virginia.

“Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the ‘crime’ of marrying the wrong kind of person,” Loving said.

“Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed.”

A Virginia state judge then threatened to throw them in jail if they did not leave the state for the next 25 years.

“We left, and got a lawyer,” Loving said. “Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.”

The couple moved to the US capital, and with help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) argued the freedom to marry case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“Things are tremendously different that it was 40 years ago,” said Gary Weaver, a white professor of international relations at the American University in Washington DC who married a black woman 38 years ago.

“When my wife and I got married, even in [Washington DC, which has a large black population], there were eggs thrown at our house, my car was shot with nine rifle bullets and fire set on the lawn,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“It was in the early 1970s — for a white person to marry a black person in those days was very unusual,” he said.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are 4,3-million racially mixed marriages in the United States.

The southern state of Alabama was the last to eliminate laws banning interracial marriages in 2000. – AFP