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Exploring Love, Law, and Language in American History with the legal movie 'Loving'



Virgina Anti-miscegenation laws
Anti-miscegenation laws, an extract

Introduction


In the realm of cinema, few films manage to strike a chord as deeply as the 2016 historical drama ‘Loving.’ Directed by Jeff Nichols, this film tells the remarkable true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose love transcended boundaries, both in matters of the heart and the law. As a legal English teacher, I find this movie to be an exceptional teaching tool, shedding light on the intricacies of the American legal system, particularly the era of anti-miscegenation laws.


Plot Summary


Before delving into the legal aspects, let’s briefly touch upon the plot of ‘Loving.’ The film portrays the real-life love story of Richard Loving (played by Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (played by Ruth Negga), an interracial couple living in Virginia in the 1950s. Their union violated the state’s Racial Integrity Act, which prohibited interracial marriages.


To evade arrest, the Lovings were forced to leave their home state and settle in Washington, D.C., where their marriage was recognised. However, the couple longed to return to their roots in Virginia, and their enduring love for one another fueled a legal battle that would ultimately change the course of American history.


Anti-Miscegenation Laws


Anti-miscegenation laws, often referred to simply as “anti-mixing” or “racial purity” laws, were a collection of state statutes in the United States that prohibited interracial marriages. These laws were prevalent in the American South from the late 17th century until the mid-20th century. The central idea behind these laws was to maintain racial purity, as proponents believed that the mixing of races would lead to the degradation of the white race.


Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, under which the Lovings were charged, is a stark example of these laws. It declared it illegal for people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored” to marry. The law relied on the one-drop rule, which meant that anyone with even a single drop of non-white ancestry was considered non-white.


The Legal Battle


The Lovings’ legal battle began when Mildred, after giving birth to their first child, decided to write a letter to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy seeking help. Kennedy forwarded their case to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which took on their cause.


The case of Loving v. Virginia eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States. In a landmark decision delivered on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. In the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”


This decision not only struck down Virginia’s laws but also invalidated similar laws in 15 other states, finally legalising interracial marriage across the United States.


The Legal Significance of this legal movie


From a legal perspective, ‘Loving’ offers a profound glimpse into the workings of the American legal system. The film showcases the power of love in challenging and ultimately changing deeply ingrained legal structures. It reminds us that even the most oppressive laws can be challenged through the courts, leading to significant social change.


Additionally, ‘Loving’ highlights the importance of understanding the language and terminology used in legal documents and arguments. As a legal English teacher, I find it crucial to emphasise the role of precise language in legal proceedings. The very definition of who was considered “white” or “colored” in Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws hinged on specific wording and classifications.


Conclusion


In conclusion, the movie ‘Loving’ is not just a beautifully crafted love story but also a compelling exploration of the legal battles that have shaped the United States. It serves as a testament to the enduring power of love and the impact of legal decisions on society. As a legal English teacher, I believe that this film can be a valuable educational tool, illustrating the importance of language and legal precision in the pursuit of justice.


The Lovings’ story is a reminder that love knows no colour or boundaries, and that, in the face of injustice, the legal system can be a force for positive change. ‘Loving’ is a poignant tribute to the Lovings’ courage and to the progress that can be achieved when individuals are willing to stand up for their love and their rights.



Sources

Dowd, K. E. (2016, October 26). Richard and Mildred Loving: The real-life story of the couple in the buzzy film. Peoplemag. https://people.com/movies/richard-mildred-loving-real-story/#:~:text=With%20a%20perfect%20last%20name,the%20Supreme%20Court%20in%201967.

IMDb.com. (2016, November 4). Loving. IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4669986/

Wolfe, C. B. (2023, February 6). Racial integrity laws (1924–1930). Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/racial-integrity-laws-1924-1930/


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