In the early morning of July 11, 1958, Sheriff Garnett Brooks and two deputies of Caroline County, Virginia, stormed into the home of Mildred Loving (1938–2008), a mixed-race woman, where she was sleeping in the bedroom with her husband Richard, a White man. The sheriff demanded to know what Mildred's relationship was to Richard. When she said she was his wife and Richard pointed to the marriage certificate hanging on the wall, the sheriff said they were breaking Virginia law which forbade Black and White people from marrying outside the state and returning to live in the state. Mildred, who was pregnant at the time, spent several nights in jail, but she and Richard eventually pleaded guilty, received one-year suspended sentences, paid court fees, and left the state on order of the judge, agreeing not to return for 25 years. The couple moved to Washington, D.C., where they had three children and visited family and friends in Virginia separately for several years.
For Mildred, being married to Richard was not an unusual arrangement. Born Mildred Delores Jeter in Central Point, Virginia, to a family that was African American, European, and Native American, she and her family lived in a town where Black and White people mixed freely. When she and Richard decided to marry, however, they could not marry in their home state because of Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, also known as an anti-miscegenation law, which barred interracial marriage. So, the couple drove to Washington, D.C., where they were married. After they returned to live in Caroline County, the incident with Sheriff Brooks occurred.
Mildred and Richard tired of living in Washington and, inspired by the civil rights movement, Mildred wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which took up her case. After appealing her case in the state court system, which upheld the original ruling, the ACLU took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia. On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court agreed unanimously for the Lovings, striking down the Virginia law, which also ended the ban on interracial marriages in other states. The court held that the anti-miscegenation statute in the Virginia law violated the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the opinion he wrote for the court, Chief Justice Earl Warren, said that marriage is a basic civil right and to deny that right is "directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment."
Mildred and Richard returned to Virginia, where they raised their family. Richard died in a car accident in 1975 and Mildred died from pneumonia in 2008. Their legacy lived on, however. An unofficial holiday, Loving Day, celebrates their triumph and multiculturalism on June 12th each year. In addition, the prohibition against mixed-race marriages has now been removed from every state constitution.
Mildred and Richard's story has been told in film: Mr. and Mrs. Loving (1996, Showtime), The Loving Story (2011, documentary), and Loving (2016, big screen). In 2004, Lela Rochon wrote Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers, one of several books in which authors examine the Loving's life and court cases.