Born on July 22, 1939 in Central Point, Virginia, the soft-spoken, introverted Mildred Delores Jeter became a reluctant Civil Rights activist in the 1960s. Mildred fell in love with Richard Loving at a time when Virginia law banned interracial marriage. Mildred was of African-American and Rappahannock Indian descent. Richard was white. The couple married despite the law. They hung their marriage certificate in their bedroom.
In 1958, the Carolina County sheriff raided the Loving’s home, bursting into the bedroom where Richard and a pregnant Mildred were sleeping. The couple was arrested and forced to leave the state. They relocated to Washington, D.C., returning to Virginia only occasionally to visit friends and family.
But the Lovings never stopped yearning for their home. And in 1963, they began the journey back. Mildred wrote Attorney General Robert Kennedy to ask for his help. Kennedy referred the couple to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Two ACLU lawyers took on the Lovings as clients. Their case eventually went to the US Supreme Court, and on June 12, 1967, the court struck down Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Mildred, Richard and their children returned to Virginia.
“We loved each other and got married,” Mildred later reflected. “We are not marrying the state. The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants.”
Photo: Encyclopedia of Virginia; Richard and Mildred Loving, their daughter Peggy, Mildred’s sister Garnet, and Richard’s mother Lola, on the porch of Mildred’s mother’s house; April 1965, Caroline County. Taken by Grey Villet for Life magazine.