Eighty-four years before Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter traveled from their home in Virginia to wed in Washington, there was another interracial couple who made the same trip for the sake of love.
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They spent 10 days on their honeymoon before returning home to Augusta County, Va., where they lived as husband and wife.
Then, in 1877, they were arrested and charged with “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” and violating Virginia’s law banning interracial marriage. On Feb. 2, 1878, they were found guilty of miscegenation and fined $500 each.
The case was appealed to the Augusta County Circuit Court, where Andrew Kinney’s attorney argued the charges should be dismissed because Kinney’s marriage to Mahala was legal in Washington.
But the circuit court refused his argument, ruling that “the said marriage” between the Kinneys was “but a vain and futile attempt to evade the laws of Virginia, and override her well known public policy” against interracial marriage.
Kinney’s attorney appealed the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals — the state’s highest appellate court.
On Oct. 3, 1878, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the state’s law prohibiting interracial marriage and affirmed that Virginia law had priority over that of other jurisdictions.
Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Christian wrote that marriage, “the most elementary and useful of all” social relations, must be regulated and controlled by the state.
“The purity of public morals, the moral and physical development of both races, and the highest advancement of our cherished southern civilization, under which two distinct races are to work out and accomplish the destiny to which the Almighty has assigned them on this continent,” Christian wrote, “require that they should be kept distinct and separate, and that connections and alliances so unnatural that God and nature seem to forbid them, should be prohibited by positive law, and be subject to no evasion.”
The court declared in the case of Kinney v. The Commonwealth that the marriage celebrated in the District between Andrew Kinney and Mahala Miller, “though lawful there,” was “invalid” in Virginia.
Christian called their marriage “a mere evasion of the laws of this state.” The judge ordered that if the Kinneys wanted to maintain their marriage, “they must change their domicile and go to some state or country where the laws recognize the validity of such marriages.”
It would take nearly a century to overturn the state’s laws against interracial marriage, which had a long history in Virginia. According to the Library of Congress, the Virginia General Assembly approved its first miscegenation law on April 3, 1691, as part of legislation for “suppressing outlying slaves.”
The act gave power to sheriffs, deputies and any other “lawful authority” to slay enslaved people who resisted, ran away or refused to surrender upon order. The act, according to Encyclopedia Virginia, also sought to prevent “abominable mixture and spurious issue” by prohibiting mixed-race marriages.
It sought to prevent “Negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women.” And the act declared “whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman bond or free shall within three months after such marriage be banished and removed from this dominion forever.”
In 1848, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation making the penalty for white people entering into interracial marriages even more harsh. The sentence was increased from six months to 12 months in prison. A year later, Virginia declared all interracial marriages between black people and white people “absolutely void.”
Despite the state law, love could not be stopped. Interracial couples kept marrying.
From 1865 to 1870, “more than 24 interracial marriages are reported in the Richmond Enquirer alone,” according to Encyclopedia Virginia. The penalty for such marriages remained harsh.
On June 14, 1871, according to the Richmond Daily Dispatch, a white woman discovered living with a black man in Wythe County, Va., was “tarred and feathered and exiled from the county.”
Over the years, the General Assembly steadily increased its punishment for interracial marriages in Virginia. In 1873, according to Encyclopedia Virginia, the General Assembly passed a law requiring the punishment for interracial marriage to be a year in jail and a $100 fine for the white person. It voted to fine any person officiating an interracial wedding $200.
Five years later — in 1878 — Virginia passed a law again increasing punishments for interracial marriages, requiring both parties to serve from two to five years in the state prison.
It was against this backdrop of harsh punishments that the Kinneys, who eventually had six sons together, went to the District to wed.
According to an 1880 census record, Kinney, a blacksmith, is listed living in Virginia, with Mahala, who is listed in the record as his wife. His age is listed as 45; her age is listed as 40. The census taker indicates Kinney’s race as “B.” Mahala’s race is listed as “W.” Their five sons (one son had died by then) ranged in age from 13 to 3. The sons were listed as “Mu,” for mulatto. Kinney’s “Sist & Law,” age 22, is listed as “W.”
Seventy-eight years after the Kinneys were listed in the 1880 Census, a sheriff arrested Richard Loving and Mildred Loving and charged them with violating Virginia’s miscegenation laws. In Oct. 1958, the Lovings were indicted in Caroline County Circuit Court. Three months later — in January 1959 — the Lovings pleaded guilty, and Judge Leon Bazile suspended their one-year jail sentence if they agreed to leave Virginia and not to return together for decades.
Four years later, while living in the District, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, seeking help.
In the letter, Mildred Loving explained: “Dear sir: I am writing to you concerning a problem we have. In 1958, my husband and I were married here in the District. We then returned to Va. to live. My husband is White. I am part Negro and part Indian.
“At the time we did not know there was a law in Virginia against mixed marriages. Therefore we were jailed and tried in a little town of Bowling Green. We were to leave the state to make our home.”
The problem, she wrote, was that they were not allowed to visit family in Virginia. “The judge said if we enter the state within the next 30 yrs., that we will have to spend 1 yr. in jail. We know we can’t live there, but we would like to go back once and a while to visit our families and friends.”
The letter was sent to the ACLU, whose lawyers took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously on June 12, 1967, that Virginia’s laws against interracial marriages violated the 14th Amendment. The ruling overturned laws against interracial marriages in sixteen states.
The Lovings had made history. And fifty years later, June 12th is celebrated throughout the country as Loving Day.
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