When Mildred and Richard Loving were arrested in July 1958, in Virginia, for violating a state law that banned marriage between people of different races, such laws had been on the books in most states since the seventeenth century. But the Lovings never expected to be woken up in their bedroom in the middle of the night and arrested. The documentary brings to life the Lovings' marriage and the legal battle that followed through little-known filmed interviews and photographs shot for Life magazine.
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After World War II, civil rights activists built upon a mobilizing tradition within black communities that included sit-ins, strikes, and protest marches. Grassroots groups around the nation relied on non-violent tactics to multiple campaigns to end segregation. National organizations, among them the NAACP and ACLU, worked to end segregation by bringing cases before the Supreme Court and the federal government. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that public schooling was to be desegregated with “deliberate speed.” Hopes were high that legalized discrimination could be ended and equal rights for African Americans won.
In many cases, the ultimate success of the major legal and political battles of the Civil Rights era rested on the action, courage, and persistence of individuals. Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were two such individuals who changed history. In July 1958, they returned home after marrying in Washington, DC, and were arrested in the middle of the night. The Lovings had broken the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 forbidding interracial marriage. Faced with prison, the Lovings took a plea bargain that mandated they leave Virginia for 25 years. They moved to Washington, DC, but missed their home, family, and rural community. In 1963, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who suggested that she contact the American Civil Liberties Union. Two young lawyers, Robert Cohen and Phillip Hirschkop, argued the case through state and federal courts. In 1967, the US Supreme Court heard Loving v. Virginia. The justices voted unanimously to strike down the Virginia law with Chief Justice Warren writing that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The landmark ruling led to the overturning of miscegenation laws in fifteen states.
The film narrates the lives of Mildred and Richard Loving and their fight for the recognition of their marriage, all the way to the Supreme Court. The film’s immediacy derives from the inclusion of little-known footage dating from the 1960s depicting the daily life of the couple and their three children while they were in hiding in a house in Virginia.