Mildred Loving Followed Her Heart and Made History

Richard and Mildred Loving in 1967, the year they won their long court case challenging Virginia's miscegenation laws.
Richard and Mildred Loving in 1967, the year they won their long court case challenging Virginia's miscegenation laws. (Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008; Page C01

Sometimes people just do things because they think they are the right things to do. Or, because they just want bothersome people to leave them alone. Not everyone wants to be on "Oprah" and write their memoirs, not even when they change history.

Consider Oliver L. Brown, a black pastor and railroad worker who joined a lawsuit in Kansas for his daughter to be able to go to a white school. Thus he became part of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the 1954 case that ended legalized segregation in America. When he died in 1961, the local paper mentioned his church, that he became ill during a trip to his in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary, that he was 42 -- and not a word about perhaps the most famous court case in the 20th century.

So we don't really know what to say about the passing on Friday of Mildred Loving (nee Jeter), she of Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia fame.

She and her husband, Richard, challenged for the right to marry interracially, won it in the famous U.S. Supreme Court case in 1967 that overturned miscegenation laws across the land and never wanted to be noticed again.

They didn't even attend the hearing on their case.

Lawyer Phil Hirschkop, then 28, in his opening statement before the Warren court that April day in that watershed season of American discontent:

"You have before you today what we consider the most odious of the segregation laws and the slavery laws."

It was still that time in America when people talked about "slavery laws."

The Lovings didn't pay attention to all that. He was a construction worker. She raised the kids. Sweeping social change, the last vestige of codified racism: That was for other people. They wanted to be left alone.

These days, June 12 is an informal holiday marked by interracial couples across the nation. It is called "Loving Day." The District recognized the day last year by official city proclamation. Ken Tanabe, the New York graphic designer who started the commemoration as a college thesis, says he tried to reach Mildred Loving on several occasions. He never got closer than her lawyers.

Trying to keep reaching her "seemed more an imposition than anything else," Tanabe said yesterday in a telephone interview. "They never wanted to be on the public face of anything."

Mildred Loving, in an interview with the Associated Press last year, on the merits of June 12: "Just another day. Sometimes I forget."

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