By Elizabeth Wong, Associate DirectorIf the chocolate boxes, red and pink hearts, and commercials reminding you to buy jewelry for your loved one weren’t enough, here’s one last reminder: Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. But, I suggest you skip the holiday’s commercialism and instead remember the spirit of the day—love—by watching a true love story that wasn’t fabricated by Hollywood.
“The Loving Story” is a new HBO documentary about the strength of Richard and Mildred Loving’s love for each other. It’s a love so strong that it fuels their determination to challenge, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage.
Like any good love story, this one has a happy ending when the Supreme Court in 1967 strikes down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law along with those in 15 other states, almost all in the South.
I know what you’re thinking: documentaries, particularly those about legal cases, don’t really scream romance. However, this story is different.
First, the case, Loving v. Virginia, involves people to whom you can relate and with whom you sympathize. Richard and Mildred are working class Americans simply looking to raise a family in a nurturing home and be near family and friends in rural Caroline County, Virginia. Their only obstacle to happiness is an unjust and discriminatory law prohibiting their marriage simply because Richard is white and Mildred is black.
Richard put it best when one of his lawyers, Bernard Cohen, asks him if there’s anything he should tell the U.S. Supreme Court on Richard’s behalf: “Mr. Cohen, tell the court I love my wife, and it’s just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
Second, unlike many documentaries, this one captures your heart. The viewer travels back 50 years with the help of videos of the Lovings in their home and stunning black and white photos by LIFE Magazine photographer Grey Villet. You also see never-before-seen footage of the legal musings of the Lovings’ attorneys, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, who were recruited by the ACLU to take on the case.
Combine all these features and you get a heartwarming film that endears you to the Lovings. The film instantly draws you in, and you find yourself rooting for the Lovings every difficult step along the way to victory.
Richard and Mildred have passed on, but I was fortunate two weeks ago to attend a crowded, emotional screening of “The Loving Story” in Caroline County, where many of their friends and relatives still live. Peggy, the Lovings’ daughter, and other members of the Lovings’ extended family were sitting right in front of me. There they were, the victors in this particular battle for racial justice, living proof of what one couple’s resolve can accomplish.
In that auditorium filled with interracial couples of all ages and children of mixed heritage, I thought about how the Lovings would be proud of how far society has advanced. They may not have thought of themselves as civil rights heroes, but in their personal quest for love, the Lovings paved the way for a new generation of Americans who can love without any racial barriers to thwart them – including the 4.5 million interracial marriages made easier by their example and fortitude.
Given the film’s discussion of interracial marriage and the legal issues involved, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels with today’s struggle for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. When the heart of the matter is simply love, one wonders why there’s such strong objection to marriage equality.
Leon Bazile, the judge who first banned the Lovings from living in Virginia as an interracial couple, 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.”
These days, religion is again being invoked a one of the reasons to deny marriage to same-sex couples. I hope that sooner rather than later, I’ll be sitting in an auditorium somewhere viewing a film about another kind of couple’s victory in a court case challenging the laws that prevent them from marrying.
But for now, celebrate this Valentine’s Day by watching “The Loving Story” and fall in love with the Lovings. It airs on HBO at 9pm ET. If you’ve already made plans, be sure to record it or catch it at a later date. It’s a story that shouldn’t be missed and can’t be told enough.
For more information:
"The Courage of Mildred Loving" -- op-ed written after Mildred Loving's death.
"On Loving v. Virginia: Racial Equality, Gay Marriage and the ACLU of Virginia" -- op-ed written on the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia.
For more about Loving v. Virginia and the ACLU’s role, visit the ACLU’s website.