- The Loving Story
Ironically, as I was wondering where to begin this review today, I noticed a car with two bumper stickers matching the sentiments I was tossing around in my mind. One read: "Hate is easy. Love takes courage." The other said: "Got Constitution?" Both relate to the details of the Loving case, in which the United States Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage (or held laws against interracial marriage to be unconstitutional [prompted by a suit brought against the Commonwealth of Virginia by Richard and Mildred Loving]). The Lovings, the key figures in this case, are captured in The Loving Story, a film produced by Nancy Buirski and Elisabeth Haviland James and available through Icarus Films.
Married in Washington, D.C., on 2 June 1958, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter returned home to Virginia where their marriage was declared illegal because he was white and she was black and Native American. At that time, anti-miscegenation laws—laws against interracial marriage—existed in 16 states. Such laws are a typical consequence of states' rights in the United States, a mechanism that allows the laws of different geographical areas to reflect the mores (and biases) of specific parts of the country.
The Loving Story conveys how such laws can impact lives with a poignancy that a strict narrative could not. We meet a young interracial couple that wanted to live together in Virginia. They were not activists or rebels. The film captures their lives using a trove of recently uncovered 16-mm film, old news clips and still photographs that present the Lovings, their lawyers and the time in a form that needs little supplemental narrative. To summarize, the case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. After they married in Washington, D.C., close to their home state of Virginia, they returned home. Based on an anonymous tip, the local authorities arrested them (while in bed), and they were eventually sentenced to prison in Virginia for marrying each other, because their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as "white" and people classified as "colored." On 6 January 1959, the Lovings pled guilty. They were sentenced to 1 year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on the condition that the Lovings permanently leave the state of Virginia.
One of the driving elements of the film's script is the racial bias in the legal case brought against the couple. Even the judge's ruling against their marriage shows this bias. Leon M. Bazile, the trial judge, wrote: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
The Lovings did not like living in the District of Columbia; they missed their families and wanted to go home. How they lived and felt about the situation is effectively captured in the photographs and interviews that compose much of the film. There are also rare documentary photographs by Life Magazine photographer Grey Villet that recount the little-known story of the Loving family— first-person testimony by their daughter Peggy Loving and footage of the two lawyers who took the case. Indeed, one of the remarkable features is seeing clips of the two young American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, discussing the case as young men, as well as in contemporary interviews in which they look back on this work.
The Civil Rights section especially stood out. It is introduced with footage of a large demonstration and followed by a clip of Mildred Loving softly [End Page 499] explaining to someone in her living room that she was not involved in the Civil Rights movement. Rather, she relates, she decided to write...