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Mildred Loving, Key Figure in Civil Rights Era, Dies

In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Loving v. Virginia that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Mildred Loving, a black woman married to a white man, had been prosecuted under one such Virginia law in 1958 and challenged it in the high court. Loving died in early May at the age of 68.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, remembering a woman, a marriage, and a landmark Supreme Court case. Jeffrey Brown has that story.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In 1958, a young Virginia couple was taken from their bed in the middle of the night and arrested for being married. Mildred Loving was black; her husband, Richard, white.

    Their one-year prison sentence was suspended on condition they leave the state and not return together or at the same time for 25 years.

    Nine years later, their case led to a Supreme Court ruling that put an end to laws outlawing marriages between men and women of different races.

    Richard Loving died in a car crash in 1975. Mildred Loving died on Friday of pneumonia at her Virginia home at age 68.

    We remember her now with Bernard Cohen, a longtime friend and one of the lawyers who argued the Lovings' case before the Supreme Court.

    Welcome to you.

    BERNARD COHEN, Lawyer for Plaintiffs, Loving v. Virginia: Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Take us back to the beginning. Who were Mildred and Richard Loving as young people growing up?

  • BERNARD COHEN:

    Mildred and Richard were a couple very much in love living in Caroline County, Virginia. Richard was a construction worker, a bricklayer, who built their home with his own two hands. Mildred was a homemaker, trying to take care of their three children.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    She became pregnant after they had gotten together. They went to Washington, D.C., to get married. A few weeks later, they were arrested.

  • BERNARD COHEN:

    Yes.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    We have some tape of her describing this, and then I'll ask you about it. Let's listen to her describe that evening.

  • MILDRED LOVING:

    We were arrested, I guess it was about 2 a.m. And I saw this light, you know. And I woke up, and it was the policeman standing beside the bed. And he told us to get up, that we was under arrest.

    And they locked us up. And we were under a $1,000 bond. And his sister got a bond company to get him out. And they told the bonding company, if they tried to get me out, that they would put him back in jail.

    So they had the trial. And they told us to leave the state for 25 years. But the way I understood it, the lawyer said that we could come back to visit, you know, when we wanted to. So that Easter, we came back, and they got us again.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It's remarkable to watch. Did you know how many states had laws, the miscegenation laws, at the time?

  • BERNARD COHEN:

    Well, at the time we took the case on, there were approximately 20 states with laws. By the time we finished the case, there were 16 or 17 left.

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