“I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you.”
“Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I
can’t live with her in Virginia.”
--Richard Loving to his ACLU attorney
Patricia Hruby Powell’s emotionally powerful verse novel LOVING VS.
VIRGINIA is a satisfying true love story, in which equality and
Constitutional rights triumph over prejudice and hate. This book left me
with a hunger to learn more about the history of anti-miscegenation laws
and other marriage-related statutes.
One of the many virtues of this wonderful “documentary novel” is the
inclusion of a wealth of important factual matter as illustrations. These
include such notable visuals as the text of the Fourteenth Amendment; the
juxtaposition of two damning photos showing what “separate but equal”
looked like in Virginia’s public schools; white supremacist quotes by
George Wallace and Harry Byrd; the text of the actual Virginia
anti-miscegenation statute; a photo from the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins; a
quote from Reverend King’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, and an aerial
photo of the 1963 March on Washington; a photo of LBJ signing the Civil
Rights Act of 1964; and quotations from the Virginia jurist’s white
supremacist-grounded opinion in the Loving case which was reversed by the
unanimous opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Another enlightening illustration is a map of the United States showing the
states with anti-miscegenation laws in 1958, when the Lovings got married.
(They married in Washington, D.C., where there were no such laws.)
According to the map, my state of California did not have such a statute in
1958. That made me wonder whether California had ever had such a law. It
turns out that in 1948, California became the first state in the nation to
strike down an anti-miscegenation law, when the state Supreme Court ruled
4-3 that a ban on interracial marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment of
the U.S. Constitution.
I also wondered about the history of laws in Virginia regarding same-sex
couples, and why Virginia seems more progressive these days in comparison
to some other southern states. It was interesting to learn what’s happened
in a state that comes across in this book as backward and racist when these
two wonderful young people fell in love in the 1950s.
“Then blinding light right in
I’m ready to scream
spooned behind me
must have woke up
and pulled me tight
into his body--
which stops the scream.
Then a cruel voice
right over me says,
‘Who’s that woman
I can’t see who’s speaking
what with the light in my
He’s talking to Richard,
Richard says nothing--
not sure he’s
even truly awake.
He just pulls me
‘I’m his wife,’ I say.
It makes me feel brave.
I’m his wife.
Richard lifts onto
takes his arm away
from his eyes.
Richard points to the marriage certificate
framed on the wall
Beam of light leaves our faces
to shine on the certificate--
so I can see it’s Sheriff Brooks
and two deputies--
but I already knew that.
‘Not here she ain’t,’
says the sheriff.
‘Come on, get dressed,
I scurry up the stairs,
pull on yesterday’s dress.
The whole house is awake--
Mama, Daddy, Otha, Lewis, Garnet--
no one says a word.
They don’t dare.
Mama watches me go off
with the white men.
Get in their car.
Go to jail.”
What a great story! Richard Loving, who was white, was a childhood friend
of the older brothers of Mildred Jeter, who was Black. Over time, Mildred
grew from being just a little sister at Richard’s friends’ house into an
adolescent who Richard grew fond of and courted.
Mildred’s siblings were supportive of the couple’s courtship, and the
family was there for her and Richard through the decade during which they
were in and out of jail for the crime of falling in love with someone of a
different skin tone. Unfortunately, a sheriff who is a poor excuse for a
human being plays an important part in the story, illustrating the cruelty
of “the Southern way of life.”
For years, the Lovings and their three children were forced to live over
the border in Washington, DC, far from their families and Richard’s job.
Finally they wrote to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, seeking
help. Kennedy referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union, where a
young attorney spent years taking their case through the state and federal
systems, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
At this moment, when the direction of the U.S Supreme Court hangs in the
balance, LOVING VS. VIRGINIA is a powerful example of how the decisions of
the High Court can personally affect millions of Americans.