Premiere of HBO documentary brings family, community and lawyer together to discuss the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia.Caroline County, VA–A racially integrated crowd of more than 400 gathered at the Caroline County Community Services Center last night to watch the premiere of “The Loving Story,” a new documentary about Richard and Mildred Loving’s 1967 Supreme Court case challenging the Virginia law banning interracial marriage.
The Lovings were natives of Caroline County who married in D.C. in 1958 and then attempted to resettle in their hometown to be near family and friends. Arrested in the middle of the night by sheriff’s deputies, they began a long court battle to assert their right to be married and live in Virginia, even though Richard was white and Mildred was black.
The Lovings were represented by two young Alexandria attorneys, Bernie Cohen and Phil Hirschkop, who had been recruited by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared Virginia’s law to be unconstitutional, sixteen other state laws prohibiting interracial marriage fell as well. Fifteen of the sixteen states formed a Southern block from Texas to Missouri to Virginia to Florida.
“It was one of the great moments of the civil rights movement and for the Supreme Court,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, who moderated a post-film panel that included Cohen, the film’s director Nancy Buirski, its producer Elisabeth Haviland James, and Richard and Mildred’s daughter Peggy Loving Fortune.
“Coming a little more than a decade after Brown v. Board of Education banned racially segregated schools and shortly after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was a fitting bookend to the greatest advances in civil rights in our nation’s history since the Emancipation Proclamation,” added Willis.
Most of the audience at Saturday’s screening were residents of the county, and a large contingent were family and friends of the Lovings. During the emotional panel discussion, audience members recounted the effect of the case on the community and the changes that have occurred since.
“The power of the documentary comes from the fact that this was the most personal of all the civil rights advances—the right to be intimate with someone of a different race—and that much of it is told through recently discovered film footage of interviews with Mildred and Richard Loving in their home surrounded by their children.” said Willis.
“And, while this is a story about the past,” Willis added, “it is hard not to draw parallels between the Lovings’ struggle to be legally recognized as a married couple and the current fight for the right of gay men and lesbians to marry their chosen partners.
“The Loving Story” will air on HBO on February 14. On the same day, it will be shown at Dodd Auditorium at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg with Bernie Cohen and Peggy Fortune Loving again serving as post-film panelists. That showing is free and open to the public.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022