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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Watching "Loving" On Valentines Day

Richard and Mildred Loving Photo by Find A Grave

On Valentines Day 2017, my wife Candice and I watched the movie "Loving" in a theater.  This movie has had one nomination for Ruth Negga for the Oscar for Best Actress In A Leading Role which was the only Oscar nomination for the movie.  The film has been quietly and persistently well reviewed and has been moderately successful in the theaters.  But it ranks barely in the top 75 money grossing movies of the year at this point and is likely to fall lower as the year goes on and more mass market money machines hit the big screen.  But earnings or Oscar nominations were not the motivation for our attendance.  The story the movie tells is why we went and why every Appalachian and American movie buff ought to see this movie. You should also see this movie even if you hate movies but care about human rights. "Loving" tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple in Virginia, who married in 1958 in violation of the miscegenation law in Virginia at that time.  They actually had to travel to Washington, DC, in order to get the ceremony performed.  Shortly after their marriage, they were arrested in Caroline County Virginia and eventually took a plea agreement by which they were sentenced to one year each in prison which was suspended and they had to agree to leave the state of Virginia and not to return together for  twenty-five years.  In compliance with the sentencing agreement, they left Virginia and moved to Washington, DC, for several years.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Loving couple eventually appealed the conviction in 1967 to the Supreme Court of Virginia and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court where their appeal was upheld and the miscegenation laws of at least seventeen states were overturned.  It was one of the most historic decisions delivered by one of the most active and productive incarnations of the court. At that time, William O. Douglas, Abe Fortas, Byron White, and Potter Stewart were all members of the court and, during their tenure together, became one of the most effective liberal voting blocks in the history of the court. The Loving decision made interracial marriage legal in the entire United States.  The Loving Decision will always be one of the most important decisions in the history of the court and the United States.  I was sixteen years old at the time and a senior in high school but I do not actively remember it.  I was raised, as I have mentioned many times on this blog, in an area of Knott County Kentucky which was totally white.  I did not attend school with an African American until I began Upward Bound the summer after my sophomore year in high school which was 1966.  But I had heard often in my childhood of one church in the Indian Bottom Association Of Old Regular Baptists which was integrated long before I was born.  That church was the Little Home Church which had been founded by African American members of the Old Regular Baptists and had always been integrated.  It was located on the opposite side of the county and my family never attended there.  That part of the county was the home of nearly every African American in the county at that time.  Residents of the two sides of the county rarely mixed unless work required it. 

Later, as an adult in about 1973, I was taken by Don West to a church in Matoaka, WV, which had been integrated for many years and had two ministers, one black and one white. About that same time, I also made a trip to Washington, DC, with West Virginia poet and professor Robert F. "Bob" Snyder where we stayed in the home of an interracial couple who had married and lived in the District of Columbia at about the same time the Loving couple lived there. From March 1989 to July 1992, I worked for a company which had a very high percentage of interracial marriages among the employees and came to know a fairly large number of such couples who had all individually and collectively faced the kinds of prejudice which the Loving couple faced in Virginia.  Unless you have lived in such a marriage, you cannot know what kinds of pressures, prejudices, and discrimination these people faced.  I do not pretend to know even though I probably have more experience in this area than most average Appalachian Caucasian males in my age range. It is also impossible for anyone who was not present in the extended families of Richard and Mildred Loving to have any idea of the courage required for them to appeal their case to the US Supreme Court and face the publicity, both positive and prejudicial, which they received as a result.

The movie is presented as much as a love story as it is as a historical or political story. The acting and the cinematography are both deliberately low key and the acting is both powerful and understated. The tensions of the time are seen in the faces and body language of the actors more so than in voice volume, timbre, or inflection.  It is a beautiful powerful piece of work on the part of everyone involved.  It is well worth seeing and I recommend it highly. I also would like to remind my readers of just how many earth shattering legal cases the ACLU has been involved in since their creation in 1920.  This organization is the most important guardian of civil and human rights in America.  At this time, they are under attack from the radical right and need your help morally, socially, and financially more than at any time in their history with the one possible exception being during the McCarthy Communist Witch Hunt during the 1950's.  Join the ACLU, make a donation, support them publicly and privately.  They have been protecting you since before you were born.  In today's political environment, you, your family, your ethnicity, your social group could become the next victim of a Right Wing Radical attack. 

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