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CAROLINE HEROINE DIES

May 5, 2008 12:15 am

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Mildred Loving in 1967 with her husband, Richard.

BY EDIE GROSS
BY EDIE GROSS

Mildred Loving hadn't intended to be a trailblazer.

She simply wanted to live her life with the man she loved in a quiet part of Caroline County.

But Mildred was black, and her husband, Richard, was white. And in 1958, laws in Virginia forbade such a pairing.

Their arrest and prosecution for violating the state's ban on interracial marriage would thrust the couple into the national spotlight, where they would ultimately change those laws for good.

Mildred Loving died Friday at the home in Central Point she fought so hard to return to. She was 68.

"She was just a down-to-earth, unpretentious woman," said Bernard Cohen, one of the lawyers who argued the Lovings' case before the U.S. Supreme Court. "She had a simple request: She wanted to love her husband, and she wanted her husband to love her."

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving met as children in Caroline County and later fell in love. They married in Washington on June 2, 1958, and then returned home to Central Point.

Six weeks later, sheriff's deputies showed up in the middle of the night and arrested the couple, charging them with violating Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924.

They were sentenced to one year in jail, but Caroline Circuit Judge Leon M. Bazile suspended the sentence as long as the Lovings left Virginia and agreed not to come back for 25 years.

They moved to Washington, but when the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964, Mildred Loving wrote Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and asked him to intervene in the case.

Kennedy turned to the American Civil Liberties Union, and the resulting appeals went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court cited the 14th Amendment when it struck down the Lovings' conviction as well as Virginia's laws banning interracial marriage.

The Lovings had returned to their Caroline home while the case was pending, and raised three children there.

Richard Loving died in 1975 after a drunk driver struck the couple's car. Mildred lost her right eye in the accident and later developed arthritis.

She had recently been hospitalized and had battled pneumonia, said Cohen, who visited her at home on Friday, shortly before she passed away, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Cedell Brooks Funeral Home in Port Royal is handling the arrangements.

She'd granted few interviews in recent years, and always downplayed her role in the landmark case.

"It wasn't my doing," she told the Associated Press in 2007. "It was God's work."

Said Cohen: "She was a heroine who never understood why people thought she was a heroine."

Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
Email: egross@freelancestar.com





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