June 12th marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage across the country and paved the way for the much more recent (and long overdue) decision that also made same sex marriage legal.
The case of Loving v. Virginia involved a black woman and her white husband who were married in Virginia, then jailed and forced to leave. With the help of the ACLU, they took their case to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that state anti-miscegenation laws (which banned mixed race marriages) were unconstitutional.
In the 50 years since that decision, interracial marriage has become more common. A recent Pew report notes that 17 percent of newlyweds were in interracial relationships in 2015, up from just 3 percent in 1967 — the year that Loving v. Virginia was decided.
Clearly, some attitudes have changed in the past 5 decades. But while conducting interviews for the Loving Project, we’ve heard stories about some of the challenges facing couples in these types of relationships… including family members who may not accept a spouse into the family because of their race, couples who have been confronted by strangers because of who they are, and parents learning to navigate a world where people with different skin colors are treated differently from one another… even if they’re members of the same family.
As a white man married to a black woman, the increase in the percentage of newlyweds in interracial relationships is encouraging — not because the end goal is that everyone should marry someone of another race, but because it’s an indication that more people are recognizing that people of every race are people.
The only possible justification for banning interracial marriage is the belief that some group of people are less than human. By upholding the right of people from different races to marry, the Supreme Court ruled that this is simply not the case, and affirmed that one human can marry another.
That’s worth celebrating, which is why we launched the Loving Project podcast, and why we brought together stories, photographs and people for the launch of our Loving Project Exhibit this month.
We held an opening reception at the Bill Russell Gallery in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood last night, and it was wonderful to be able to celebrate the stories of mixed families with the dozens of people who came to the event.
The gallery is also open to the public from 10:00AM to 4:00PM on Saturday, June 17th and Saturday June 24th if you’re in the Philly area and want to stop by.
When we started the podcast, we just figured it would be a good way to commemorate the anniversary by sharing stories of what it’s like to be in an interracial relationship today. But we had no idea how much joy, fear, sadness, and hope we would capture on tape… or how much time we would end up spending turning those stories into podcast episodes and a gallery show.
The podcast will continue with new episodes every other week through the end of the year. And with the June 12th anniversary, (also known as Loving Day), fast approaching, what started out as a little podcast that gained an audience through word-of-mouth has gotten a lot of attention from local and national media.
It’s also been amazing to hear from listeners and visitors to the gallery about how it affects them hearing people tell stories that are familiar and some that are unfamiliar… and which both reaffirm one’s view of the world at times, while making one question it at other times.
Loving v. Virginia is a case that doesn’t seem to get as much attention as some other historic events that took place in the Civil Rights movement. But a century after slavery was abolished in the United States, this country still had a system of racist institutions in place designed to treat African Americans as second-class citizens and to deny the humanity of people with dark skin.
On June 12th, 1967, the country took an important step toward realizing that the thing people of different races have in common is their shared humanity… and that there was no good reason to prevent people of different races from marrying.
It shouldn’t be a controversial statement. It shouldn’t have taken so long to reach that point. And 50 years later, it’s astonishing to me that some people still seem to find this idea controversial or political.
But that’s one of the key reasons why it’s important to keep telling these stories.