When police in Central Point, Virginia, raided the home of Mildred and Richard Loving in 1958 on an anonymous tip, the Lovings were found sleeping in their beds below their marriage certificate hung on the wall, a crime for which they were charged under Section 20-59 of the Virginia Code: miscegenation, or interracial marriage, punishable by one to five years in prison.
Today, the 2016 Cannes Film Festival begins, where a film by Little Rock’s Jeff Nichols (“Mud,” “Midnight Special”) depicting the landmark civil rights case that followed (Loving vs. Virginia), competes for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or. The movie won’t appear in theaters until November, but has already been deemed a promising contender for the award, a testament to both Nichols’ portfolio and the poignancy of the couples’ story.
In retrospect, it’s incredible that such a vast timespan exists between court cases Pace vs. Alabama and Loving vs. Virginia. The former ruling happened in 1883, when the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the criminal charges brought against Tony Pace and Mary Cox for the crime of being an interracial couple “living together in a state of adultery or fornication.” (Pace and Cox were not married, so they faced only a misdemeanor charge, but had they been married, it would been deemed a felony.) Loving vs. Virginia overturned those anti-miscegenation laws in 1967, and is now celebrated every year on June 12, “Loving Day.”