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Government, Politics & Issues

Mildred Loving: 'Is this the night the police will come?'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Mildred Loving has a special place in my memory.

Almost 20 years ago, I was writing stories about the Constitution. One afternoon, on a whim, I put my sleeping 4-year-old in the car and set off from our Bethesda, Md., hoping to find Mildred Loving at her rural Virginia home.

When I finally found her in as rural a spot as I've ever been, she welcomed me into her house. J, my son, was awake by then. I think Mildred Loving gave him some cookies and he sat wide-eyed while she talked about the case that made her famous.

The case was decided two years after the Supreme Court decision of Griswold v. Conn., which first recognized a constitutional right of privacy. The Supreme Court relied in part on that right of privacy in its Loving decision. Below is what I wrote 20 years ago to explain Mildred Loving's story. I left her home that day with deep respect for her courage. My son still remembers his long field trip.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Oct. 15, 1991

The modern era of privacy decisions began with Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1965. The decision threw out state laws prohibiting the use of birth control devices by married couples. Estelle Griswold, a one-time member of the Junior League who had turned to social work in World War II, opened an eight-room birth control clinic at 79 Trumbell Street in New Haven on Nov. 1, 1961. She expected to be arrested and was. On June 7, 1965, the Supreme Court voted 6-2 to overturn Griswold's conviction.

The decision recognized for the first time a constitutional right of privacy, although different justices found it in different parts of the Constitution. Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote the main opinion, found the right of privacy in the ''penumbras,'' the shadows, of five different amendments in the Bill of Rights.

Meanwhile, only 120 miles south of the Supreme Court building, Mildred Loving couldn't go to sleep at night for fear that her personal privacy would be invaded. Loving, who is black, had committed the crime of marrying her childhood sweetheart - a white man.

In 1958, she and her husband, Richard, had awakened to find the sheriff of Caroline County standing over their bed. They were taken to jail, convicted and banished from Virginia. But the Lovings had decided to raise their family near their hometown and challenged the law.

Lying awake ''I had all parts of thoughts,'' Loving recalled in a 1987 letter. ''Is this the night the police will come? What can we do if they come?''

On June 12, 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren issued a unanimous opinion concluding that laws against interracial marriages violated both the 14th Amendment's promises of equal protection and liberty. The decision knocked out similar laws in 16 other states, including Missouri.

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