'Loving' and the History of Anti-Miscegenation Laws in Virginia and Washington

By Candice Frederick
November 3, 2016
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
“Woodson's 'The Beginning of Miscegenation of the Whites & Blacks”

“Woodson's 'The Beginning of Miscegenation of the Whites & Blacks” Image ID: 5431198

In honor of the theatrical release of Loving this Friday, Shakeya Hughes, the Schomburg Center's Communications Pre-Professional, writes about the importance of the Loving v. Virginia case in Black history:

On November 4, the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple who inspired the landmark 1967 civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, which challenged laws prohibiting interracial marriages, will be told on the big screen in the new movie Loving. Before its release, it’s important to understand the world in which they lived. What was it like to marry interracially in a state where it was illegal?

Historically, anti-miscegenation laws in southern states including Virginia and Maryland prevented African Americans from marrying outside their race. Anti-miscegenation laws were enforced in the mid 1960s. Ralph Ellison’s essay, “Woodson’s The Beginning of Miscegenation of the Whites and Blacks,” featured above and housed here in our Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, focuses on historian Carter Woodson’s studies on anti-miscegenation. Ellison explains that in Maryland, a Caucasian woman engaged to a Black slave must be her husband’s slave owner throughout his entire life. And as his master, the woman also had to own her husband’s parents until she turned 30 years old and was no longer able to fulfill these duties. In addition, biracial children born into slavery had no choice but to be slaves by law. In 1662, laws in Virginia banning cohabitation between an interracial couple were severe. Couples was charged serious fines for fornication. Miscegenation within the state of Virginia was ultimately restricted in 1691.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, interracial marriage in Washington D.C. became legal. Author Annella Lynn explores this topic further in her book, Interracial Marriages in Washington D.C. 1940-1947. In 1915, sixteen interracial couples were married in the District of Columbia. If anti-miscegenation laws were active, Negroes and Caucasians who married interracially could face serious penalties, including forced annulment. Biracial partners who got engaged could also face tougher repercussions such as imprisonment.

Interracial marriage was banned in the state of Virginia in 1691. Interracialism: Black- White Intermarriage in American History, Literature and the Law edited by Werner Sollors, explores the legal procedures of anti-miscegenation in that area. According to the 1924 Virginia Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, only minorities can marry one another. But based on the United States Constitution, this policy violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment, which ultimately helped the Lovings win their case. Nine years before it went to the Supreme Court, the couple were legally married in Washington, D.C. in 1958. They were sentenced to one year in prison for not abiding to Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law and applying for a marital license out of state. However, their sentence was suspended. Instead, they were ordered to leave Virginia and not return together for 25 years. As a result, they established themselves in the District of Columbia for four years. But after a unanimous decision on June 12th 1967, the Supreme Court overturned the couple’s convictions by dismissing Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation policy. The Lovings proved that unconditional love is worth fighting for.