I’m thrilled to present a guest post by author Patricia Hruby Powell, who has written so many books I have loved, including Loving vs. Virginia. In this post, Powell talks about the landmark case and her decision to tell the story in verse. Here’s what she has to say:
My mother was an activist. I remember as a child picketing with her at the grocery store, carrying a sign, “Don’t eat table grapes,” in support of migrant farmworker rights to be fairly paid. As a family we fought for integration in our town. So it’s no surprise that I am attracted to various subjects of social justice such as the individual’s right to marry whomever they choose.
My book Loving vs. Virginia opens with a Virginia law entitled the “Racial Integrity Act,” dated March 1924, which states: “. . . there are in the State . . . near white people, who are known to possess an intermixture of colored blood . . . enough to prevent them from being white.”
The document continues stating that these “near white” people are trying to enroll in white schools and intermix with white society in various ways. This is the law that forbade Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, from marrying in Virginia. And it’s a Health law! And it remained the law in Virginia until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of interracial marriage in the Loving v Virginia case in 1967.
So Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter got married in Washington, D.C. and returned home to rural Virginia. However, their problems were just beginning. They were arrested five weeks later, in their bed, simply for being married.
Studying the historical documents relating to the case, I was not only floored by the blatant racism, but surprised by the carelessness involved. Richard Loving’s arrest warrant is barely legible. Surely the person filling out that form never dreamed that authors, filmmakers, lawyers and students would be studying this document for decades. In the second warrant, Mildred is not even named, but is designated as “_______Jeter” suggesting that a black woman was invisible in the legal system. Only the white man was fully named. Equality and freedom may be improving for people of color and for women, but there’s so much work yet to do.
I’m often asked why I wrote Mildred and Richard’s voices in verse. In researching this book, I viewed Hope Ryden’s 16mm footage of the Loving family, filmed in 1963. Mildred’s gentle nature and her Southern accent, combine to make poetry. Verse seemed the natural route to bring her voice to life. Richard is also soft-spoken but there’s an edge of defensiveness to his voice. I made his lines longer and slightly choppier, with less correct grammar than Mildred’s. You can view the footage of the Loving couple online, in Nancy Buirski’s documentary, The Loving Story (2011). Also worth watching is the movie Loving (2016).
I hope you read my book as well as watch the films.
I invite you to visit my website at www.talesforallages.com