civil rights; family law; race


This Essay reconsiders or reaffirms the Lovings’ status as civil rights icons by drawing on source material provided by the documentary The Loving Story. This nonfiction treatment of the couple and their lawsuit reveals their complexity as individuals and as a couple, the social relationships that made them desperate to live together and raise their children in Virginia, and the oppression they suffered at the hands of state actors motivated by a virulent white supremacy to make the Lovings’ desire to make a home for themselves in the state impossible. Part I briefly describes the Lovings’ struggle against Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act and suggests how movement politics on the subject of antimiscegenation laws, as well as the Supreme Court’s opinion, impacted the Lovings’ status as icons. Part II considers the rich portrait of the Lovings revealed in images captured by documentarians that spent time with the family. The couple comes across as ordinary people whose resistance to the law grew out of a genuine commitment to each other and to the place they considered home. Part III situates the Lovings within a multiracial community that broadly supported them but also exposed them to racial animus enforced informally by whites and officially by law enforcement. Part IV focuses on the abuse meted out by specific state actors who fought the Lovings’ right to marry and live in Virginia. This Essay concludes that, when appropriately viewed in the full context of their lives, struggles, and victories, it is fitting that the Lovings be recognized as progressive civil rights icons.