Mildred Loving Made People Like Obama & Mariah (More) Possible

Illustration for article titled Mildred Loving Made People Like Obama  Mariah (More) Possible

black is brown is tan

is girl is boy

is nose is face

is all the colors

of the race


In 1973, the year I was born, Harper & Row Publishers released a book from its children's publishing division that signaled the emergence of a new racial demographic in the United States. Titled Black is Brown is Tan and authored by poet Arnold Adoff, the 32-page book's "story-poem" (excerpted above) told the tale of a modern interracial family not unlike Adoff's own (Adoff, a Jewish writer from New York City, married African-American writer Virginia Hamilton in 1960, a union that produced two now-grown children, Leigh and Jamie). Although neither Adoff nor Harper & Row realized at the time that Black is Brown is Tan would be the first picture book for children about a biracial American family, Adoff did suspect that his book would reflect the realities of a rapidly developing domestic demographic - the black/white marriage - through the eyes of its children...Mildred Loving's children.


For those who have never heard of her, Mildred Loving was an African-American woman who, with her white husband Richard, changed the United States' miscegenation laws by taking the state of Virginia — which regarded their union as illegal — to court and, with a June 12, 1967 decision in her and her husband's favor, effectively dismantled the laws in that state and 15 others that prohibited intermarriage between the races. Mildred Loving, as you also may or may have have heard, has just died at the age of 68 of undisclosed causes. (Richard Loving was killed in a car accident in 1975.)

Mildred and Richard had some formidable foes. Although some states' anti-miscegenation laws came to include other ethnic groups, as Werner Sollors says in his book Interracialism, "all such laws restricted marriage choices of blacks and whites, making the black-white divide the deepest and historically most pervasive of all American color lines." Certainly, Loving vs. Virginia was not the only factor in the rapidly growing number of black/white unions and marriages during '60s and '70s, but it was an important one, and a strong indicator that something new was happening between blacks and whites in the second half of the 20th century, something more concerned with love than hate. (Those who are better schooled in these matters than I am, please elaborate in the comments.)

What I find both fascinating and inspiring is that the generation of biracial (a term I am using here to describe those with one black parent and one white parent) Americans born in the fifteen years after Loving vs. Virginia, is a generation that has, in recent years come of age both in the public and private spheres. All over the airwaves, bookshelves and movie screens one can see representatives of this generation, from athletes (Derek Jeter, Jason Kidd, James Blake) to entertainers (Halle Berry, Lisa Bonet, Mariah Carey) to writers and thinkers (Rebecca Walker, Danzy Senna and Zadie Smith). This is no coincidence: According to figures made available by Race Branch of the United States Census Bureau, the number of interracial (black/white) couples in the United States in 1960 numbered 51,000. Ten years later (almost three years after Loving), the number had risen 27.4% to 65,000 and by 1980 that number had almost doubled, coming in at 121,000. The numbers of children borne from such unions grew just as quickly: the 2000 Census states that there were 4,850 biracial Americans born in 1967; the same census puts the number born in 1977 at 9,261, almost double the number born ten years earlier, and five years later, in 1982, 14,125 biracial children came into the world in the United States. And we are better for it. As the AP reports today, "In a rare interview... last June, Loving said she wasn't trying to change history — she was just a girl who once fell in love with a boy. 'It wasn't my doing,' Loving said. 'It was God's work.'"

Mildred Loving, Matriarch Of Interracial Marriage, Dies

Related: Who Are We Now? New Dialogue On Mixed Race [NY Times]

Black Is Brown Is Tan

Loving Vs. Virginia [Wikipedia]

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There is still prejudice about interracial couples. When I was 13, my mom remarried, marrying a black man. My best friend from childhood, who practically lived at my house while my mom was married to my white, blue-eyed stepfather, was dropped off at a party by her parents, who came in to say hello to my mom. She introduced my stepfather and they wouldn't shake his hand. Or look him in the eye. And after that day, my friend was no longer my friend, of course.

When I was going to get married and the families were gonna meet, the dinner of my mom, my African-born stepfather, my husband's mom, sister, and her husband lasted about 15m before his sister said something disgustingly racist, and my mom proceeded to toss enough money in bills to pay for everyone's dinner on the table, and scream out her disgust with their behavior, storming out followed by my husband and I. So yeah, I didn't have a wedding, and I'm adamant that when I have a child, it is not to have contact with them.