By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The word "miscegenation" is a linguistic artifact, a sort of postmodern joke, a term most often used with a sense of irony.
But at a backyard barbecue in the District on Sunday afternoon that was dedicated to the joys and intricacies of interracial love, sex and marriage, Lydia and Peter Mosher remembered when bans on interracial relationships were deadly serious. Such laws began in Maryland in 1661, multiplied across the country and did not end until a Virginia case in 1967. No one needs a reminder about the fate of black men who had sex with white women in the Jim Crow era.
Even for others, it wasn't easy: "We keep things as normalized as possible." This is Peter Mosher talking in a follow-up phone call, describing his marriage of 43 years. "But maybe we still carry some baggage from the 1950s, the 1960s. Maybe we watch our backs a little more." Peter is white; his wife is black.
Monday was, by city proclamation, Loving Day in the nation's capital, recognizing the 39th anniversary of L oving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that overturned miscegenation laws in Virginia and 15 other states, all in the South. It was the end of the last piece of state-sanctioned segregation.
That decision has, in the ensuing years, changed the way the nation looks -- the percentage of interracial marriages has increased fivefold from 1970 to 2000, according the U.S. Census, from 1 percent of all marriages to more than 5 percent. The number of children living in interracial families has quadrupled in that time period, going from 900,000 to more than 3 million, and the Census Bureau predicts that such interracial unions will continue to increase.
District-born Ken Tanabe, a 28-year-old product of that interracial boom, is laboring mightily to turn June 12 into a national Loving Day -- a grass-roots observation of the court case and the nation's growing mixed-race heritage. Starting from scratch three years ago, he's built a history-filled Web site ( http://www.lovingday.org/ ) and networked with multiracial advocacy groups to create parties and celebrations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and other cities. Lydia and Peter Mosher attended a small backyard barbecue in the Takoma neighborhood of Northwest Washington to mark the occasion in the city where so much of the Loving v. Virginia case took place.
"The primary focus is to fight the racism that still exists today," Tanabe, a broadcast graphics designer in New York, said in a telephone interview yesterday. He was fresh off interviews in the Gotham media circuit, hitting CBS's morning show and appearing as the subject of a question-and-answer feature in the Village Voice. (Tanabe is the son of Francis Tanabe, an editor in The Washington Post's Book World section). "We're talking about hundreds of years of history, laws from the Colonial era that extended even past segregation; Alabama didn't take their law off the books until six years ago. The idea is to build it into a type of Juneteenth celebration that people observe across the country."
That may be possible, says Jungmiwha Bullock, president of the Association of Multi-Ethnic Americans, a Los Angeles-based umbrella organization that advocates for multiracial Americans on such issues as categories on census forms and mixed-race adoptions. The organization sponsored several parties over the weekend, and will host a nationwide conference call this month to plan for a major national observation next year, on the 40th anniversary.
"I don't know that people know about and understand the impact of that court case," Bullock says. "I mean, how many of us mixed-race kids would have been born without it? That's a pretty fundamental change in society."
The Loving case started in rural Caroline County, Va., about 100 miles south of the District. Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were young people in love. She was just 18. She was black and he was white. They traveled in 1958 to the District, where interracial marriages were legal, took their vows, came home and, at 2 a.m., were arrested in bed by deputies. They were prosecuted and sentenced to a year in jail. Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon Bazile suspended the sentence -- so long as the couple left the state and did not return together for a quarter-century.
"Almighty God created the races, white, black, yellow, Malay, and red and 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 the races to mix," Bazile ruled.
The Lovings moved in exile to the District. And then they sued.
It was not until 1967, 13 years after Brown v. Board of Education ended segregated schools, that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law.
Richard Loving was killed in a car accident in 1975; Mildred Loving, now in her late sixties, still lives in Virginia but rarely gives interviews.
"Since the older generation is dying," she told The Post in a 1992 interview, "the younger ones . . . realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry."
Nearly 15 years later, a young man who is part Japanese and part Belgian says it is a point worth remembering.
"Most people don't think of the Loving decision as a civil rights case, but more as a personal preference thing," Ken Tanabe says in a phone interview. "But it goes to the most fundamental sense of who we are as human beings, and how we live our lives."