A brief history of interracial marriage



A brief history of interracial marriage

By Lane Hartill

Americans’ attitudes toward black-white relationships have started to thaw over the years. But it’s been a long, slow road. As recently as 1991, the National Opinion Research Center found that 66 percent of white Americans polled opposed a close relative marrying a black man.

NOT IN OUR TOWN: Students in Wedowee, Ala., protest the appointment of Hulond Humphries as school superintendent in 1997. Three years earlier, Humphries had threatened to cancel the high school prom if interracial couples attended.

More recently, a national survey by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University found 86 percent of black respondents said their families would welcome a white person. But only 55 percent of white families would respond in kind. Still, the Current Population Survey estimates that there are more than 450,000 black-white marriages today, compared with 51,000 in 1960.

The more open attitudes toward interracial marriages may have had a beginning with the miscegenation court case of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter. In 1958, Mr. Loving, a tall bricklayer from Virginia, married the love of his life, Miss Jeter, in Washington, D.C. But this wasn’t a typical relationship. He was white. She was black.

Mixed-race marriages were illegal in their home state of Virginia, just as they were in many states in the South. When they returned home, she was arrested. A 1922 anti-miscegenation law stated that if blacks and whites intermarried, punishment was one to five years in prison.

In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that a ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional. The law was overturned in Virginia and 15 other states (14 had already repealed similar laws). Still, a dozen states had the ban on interracial marriages on their books into the 1970s, though the laws were legally unenforceable.

The most recent was Alabama, which removed the law from its books last November.

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