Among the most viciously stupid and/or dangerously naive among us, are those who upon Barack Obama’s election declared we were living in the “Age of Post-Racial America”. Tomorrow will mark the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Loving vs. Virginia. As absurd as it might seem today, up until Loving 16 States had laws on the books that made marriage between people of different ‘”Races” into a felony.
From the record of the Loving case this is a brief description of the trials faced by the couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, who brought the suit:
“At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant. In June 1958, the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, thereby evading Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made marriage between whites and non-whites a crime. They returned to the small town of Central Point, Virginia. Based on an anonymous tip, local police raided their home in the early morning hours of July 11, 1958, hoping to find them having sex, given that interracial sex was then also illegal in Virginia. When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. They were told the certificate was not valid in the Commonwealth.
The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified miscegenation as a felony, punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years.
On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.” They were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended on condition that the couple leave Virginia and not return together for at least 25 years. After their conviction, the couple moved to the District of Columbia.”
To most of us today the idea that government on any level would be involved in banning and criminalizing the marriage of people based on race seems improbable and absurd. Fifty years, or one half century, can seem to be a long time in human affairs, especially to those who were born after a sea change in culture. The abominable history of racial oppression in this country fades in the memory of many White people, as the public symbols of it are confined to covert actions by the bigoted and the clueless denial of it that is “White Privilege”.
The election of Barack Obama sadly served as a catalyst to bring out the racism that was heretofore hidden away in the light of Supreme Court rulings beginning with Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 and then in Loving. For the racists among us, both the rabid and the more genteel, the idea of a Black Man as President was an intolerable step too far. The beginnings of this racial backlash can be seen in the “august” Republican Senators, who led by the slyly bigoted Mitch McConnell, decided that they would oppose everything that President Obama attempted, just because it was coming from him. In short order a phony “Tea Party” Movement, funded by a cabal of historically supremacist billionaires, sprang up using economic policy as a mask for the virulent racism at its heart. This was followed in short order by the overtly racist “Birther” Movement, from which our now President found a way to launch his once improbable political career.
So here we are today, led by a narcissistic demagogue, who uses racism and religious bigotry to inflame public fright with noxious nostrums that tear up our Constitutional Republic. An advantage of living as long as I have, is the perspective of the impermanence of the realities of life and living. For many like me, born way before the end of segregation and publicly approved racial bias, the gains of the Civil Rights Movement seemed to have turned the country away from its’ early history of racial oppression. Not only has that not happened, but with the modern Republican Party, led now by dangerously incompetent individual, we see that racism has emerged from the fringes to play an ever increasing role in our national dialogue.
For people like me who loathe racism, bigotry and sexual repression, we must understand that our battle is one that never ends as new generations rise up and ignore the truths of the past. With the base sensibilities that fracture and divide our human race, there can be no compromise, nor surcease from education. In the words of George Santayana:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.