How an in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple's love changed his­tory

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Just as a caus­tic elec­tion has laid bare loose threads in the US so­cial fab­ric, a new film has re­turned to the coun­try's all-too-re­cent era of deep racial seg­re­ga­tion. "Lov­ing"-which en­tered wide re­lease in time for the US Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day-fol­lows the ro­mance of a black woman and a white man in mid-20th cen­tury Amer­ica, when laws in some states for­bade in­ter­ra­cial mar­riages.

The his­tor­i­cal drama is based on a decade-long le­gal battle that cul­mi­nated in a land­mark Supreme Court de­ci­sion, declar­ing un­con­sti­tu­tional leg­is­la­tion ban­ning in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage, known as anti-mis­ce­gena­tion laws.

Af­ter they wed in Wash­ing­ton DC, Richard and Mil­dred Lov­ing re­turned to the US state Vir­ginia­part of the se­ces­sion­ist con­fed­er­acy dur­ing the Civil War -- where mar­ry­ing across the racial di­vide was for­bid­den.

Child­hood sweet­hearts, Richard and Mil­dred wanted lit­tle more than to build a home-but in the eyes of Virginia law, the lovers were crim­i­nals. The Lov­ings ul­ti­mately found them­selves on the front lines of a civil rights case that would change the course of US his­tory. Half-a-cen­tury later, the 1967 rul­ing's im­pact is still re­ver­ber­at­ing: the his­toric judg­ment helped pave the way to­ward le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riage in 2015.

The right to love

Not long af­ter the Lov­ings ex­changed vows in Wash­ing­ton in 1958, po­lice raided their home in the dead of the night. Mil­dred, who was preg­nant, hoped the mar­riage cer­tifi­cate on the wall would shield the pair from ar­rest, to no avail. "That's no good here," the sher­iff told her, be­fore ar­rest­ing the pair.

The cou­ple pleaded guilty in Virginia court and re­ceived a one-year prison sen­tence. The pun­ish­ment was sus­pended for 25 years on the con­di­tion that the Lov­ings leave the state, so they re­turned to Wash­ing­ton.

The film, which re­ceived crit­i­cal ac­claim fol­low­ing its pre­miere at Cannes, stars Joel Edger­ton and Ruth Negga whose por­trayal of Mil­dred Lov­ing has her tipped as a pos­si­ble Os­car nom­i­nee. The lead ac­tors por­tray the cou­ple not as mil­i­tants or in­tel­lec­tu­als, but as a shy, work­ing-class pair de­ter­mined to de­fend their right to love. "Tell them I love my wife," Richard tells his lawyer, when asked what he would like the Supreme Court to know.

Un­sung he­roes

A cou­ple whose pri­mary aim was to leave the city and re­turn to a life un­der the radar in their home state, Richard and Mil­dred Lov­ing are rel­a­tively un­sung he­roes of the civil rights move­ment.

"Civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions and their al­lies never made re­ver­sal of the anti-mis­ce­gena­tion laws a ma­jor cause," his­to­rian Larry Greene of Se­ton Hall Uni­ver­sity told AFP, say­ing that hous­ing, school de­seg­re­ga­tion and vot­ing rights were in­stead the top pri­or­i­ties. And yet the US has a long his­tory of bar­ring in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage, ac­cord­ing to Robin Len­hardt, a law pro­fes­sor at Ford­ham Uni­ver­sity.

Anti-mis­ce­gena­tion laws ex­isted in 30 states at one point, she said, which many peo­ple saw "as a cru­cial di­vid­ing line be­tween whites and blacks, cru­cial to the so­ci­ety. "For that to be re­moved was a bit­ter pill for many com­mu­ni­ties." Some states re­sisted the 1967 rul­ing: Alabama did not over­turn its leg­is­la­tion out­law­ing in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage un­til 2000, the last state to do so.

The film has been re­leased at a time, Len­hardt said, "when the na­tion is think­ing and wor­ry­ing about racism."

Since Don­ald Trump's elec­tion hate speech has been on the rise, ac­cord­ing to the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, which seeks to track and com­bat racism. And the past sum­mer saw a string of high-pro­file po­lice shoot­ings of black cit­i­zens that in­flamed racial ten­sions na­tion­wide. "The film is a re­minder of the need to guard against the kind of racial bias that we've seen in the dis­tant past," Len­hardt said, "but also our re­cent." — AFP

This im­age ob­tained from the Na­tional Ar­chives show US Supreme Court doc­u­ments deal­ing with the in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage of Richard and Mil­dred Lov­ing. — AFP

This im­age ob­tained from the Na­tional Ar­chives shows the June 2, 1958, mar­riage li­cense of in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple Richard Lov­ing and Mil­dred Jeter. — AFP

This file photo taken on May 16, 2016 shows Ir­ish-Ethiopian ac­tress Ruth Negga (L) and Aus­tralian ac­tor Joel Edger­ton as they ar­rive for the screen­ing of the film ‘Lov­ing’ at the 69th Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in Cannes, south­ern France. — AFP

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