Loving Day

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Francis Miller / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images

Mildred and Richard Loving at a press conference after the Supreme Court ruled that their interracial marriage was legal in Loving v. Virginia

In February 1961, Barack Obama's parents did something that was illegal in 22 states and that 96% of the population disapproved of: they got married. In fact, interracial marriage, sex and cohabitation would remain illegal in much of the U.S. for another six years. Then on June 12, 1967, in the case Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the country's anti-miscegenation laws, allowing interracial couples across the country to marry. Thirteen years after Brown v. Board of Education, the court took the last legal teeth out of the Jim Crow era, ridding the U.S. of its last major piece of state-sanctioned segregation. June 12 has since become a grass-roots holiday in the U.S., especially for multiracial couples and families. Known as Loving Day, the celebration commemorates the 1967 case and fights prejudice against mixed-race couples, and is a reason to throw an awesome, inclusive party.

As the long-running state-tourism campaign claims, Virginia is for lovers, but that hasn't always been true. In 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving got married in Washington, D.C., where interracial marriage was legal. But one night when Richard, who was white, and Mildred, who was black and Native American, were sleeping in their Virginia home, three police officers burst inside, shined flashlights in their faces and told them that their Washington marriage certificate was "no good." The newlyweds were arrested and threatened with jail time. A Virginia judge looked down at the couple from his bench and told them, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." He sentenced Richard and Mildred to a year in jail each, citing an 1883 Supreme Court case that said if a mixed-race couple were punished equally, there would be no discrimination.

To avoid prison, the Lovings agreed to move to Washington and not return to Virginia for 25 years. After five years, however, the couple longed to see their family and friends in Virginia. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), they fought their way to the Supreme Court. An ACLU lawyer recalled when Richard simply stated what the legal argument should be: "Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia." On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court agreed. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion, writing that anti-miscegenation laws "deprive the Lovings of liberty" and that the "freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness." Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws had been on the books for 305 years.

Sadly, the happy marriage was cut short. Richard was killed in a car accident in 1975. Mildred, who never remarried, passed away in 2008. The Lovings' case may have ended the last vestiges of legal segregation, but attitudes take longer to change. As late as 1987, a full 20 years after the case, only 48% of Americans said it was acceptable for blacks and whites to date. That number has since jumped to 83%, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2010, the center estimated that 1 in 7 new marriages in the U.S. is now an interracial coupling. In 1961, the year Obama's parents married, only 1 in a 1,000 marriages included a black person and a white person; today, it's 1 in 60.

The idea for Loving Day came from one person, Ken Tanabe. In 2004, while a student at Parsons the New School for Design, Tanabe created Loving Day as part of his senior thesis. Growing up, he had never heard of the Lovings, and as a person of mixed-race heritage, he wanted that to change. He created a website to educate people about the history of mixed-race marriages and encouraged people to host their own Loving Day gatherings to create an annual tradition for the mixed-race community. In 2004, there were two large public celebrations — one in New York City and one in Seattle. Now Loving Day is the biggest multiracial celebration in the U.S., with public events in most large cities across the country. This year will be the seventh annual Loving Day celebration, and if previous years are any indication, it will be the biggest yet.