“Virginia Hasn’t Always Been For Lovers”

Phyl Newbeck, a Vermont attorney, has written an intriguing study on interracial marriage in Virginia–its history and the legal changes affecting relationships and racial identity. Her title: Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. 299 pp.)

Miscegenation laws have existed in America since 1691 in Virginia–modified in 1924 to include the one-drop rule for non-white identity. Violators were subject to imprisonment. The law was changed in the middle of the twentieth century.

The author is married to an African American. She saw the Showtime movie, Mr. and Mrs. Loving, a semi-documentary of Mildred Jeter (Black) and Richard Loving (white) convicted of interracial marriage in 1958, who accepted exile for 25 years rather than serve time in prison. In 1963, they initiated a challenge of this sentence, Loving vs. Virginia, and eventually the case was heard before the Supreme Court. The Virginia law was declared unconstitutional along with similar laws in 15 other states.

Newbeck’s book includes an historical study of interracial marriage laws and bans across the United States. She examines the Mississippi experience in some depth. And she includes persons of Mexican and Native American descent within her definition of interracial, noting that these persons were usually classified as white if they had no known African ancestry. Much of her information is gleaned from interviews with persons who ran-head on into legal marriage bans.

(Not to be confused with marriage banns where the marriage is announced to the local community three times in succession so if anyone had a legal reason to oppose the marriage, they could come forward before the marriage actually took place.)

Two years after the Supreme Court decision, Virginia took “Virginia is for Lovers” as their slogan–including, within their culture, interracial marriages. Now you know the “rest of the story.”

When searching marriage records in states that had miscegenation laws on their books, be sure to watch for “Colored or Negro Marriages” in a separate register. And remember that clerks making entries in two record books at the same time could make mistakes–entering the marriage in the wrong ledger. It is always a good practice to check both records for your ancestors. Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://www.arleneeakle.com

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