Richard and Mildred Loving were a normal couple living an ordinary life in Caroline County, Virginia. Like thousands of other couples, Mildred and Richard traveled to Washington D.C. in June 1958 to wed. But these other couples were not like the Lovings. Richard Loving was white and Mildred Loving was African American and Rappahannock Native American. That alone was enough to turn their worlds upside down. A month after exchanging vows in a D.C. courthouse, police officers invaded the Loving’s home in the middle of the night and arrested the couple for violating the Racial Integrity Act, a state law in Virginia which banned interracial marriages.
The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from crossing state lines for the sole purpose of getting married and sentenced to one year in prison. The local court suspended their sentence for 25 years as long as the Lovings agreed to leave Virginia, with the understanding that both Richard or Mildred could return to visit relatives – as long as they never returned to the state together. What happened next was unprecedented. The landmark Loving vs. Virginia case ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the U.S. After nine years of fighting, the Lovings were able to come home together.
On November 17, Bennett College students had the privilege of screening “The Loving Story,” a HBO documentary which uses archived footage and interviews with the Lovings and those close to them to tell the story of their fight for the right to love freely. Nancy Buirski, the producer of the film, and Susie Powell, who wrote the film’s timeline, came to Bennett to discuss the documentary and inspire students to tell similar stories that are often overlooked.
Buirski, a former New York Times photojournalist, decided to produce a documentary on the revolutionary Supreme Court case after reading Mildred Loving’s obituary in a newspaper. She was familiar with Powell’s work and enlisted her to write the outline or timeline for the film. Powell thought it was important to tell this story because she was raised in the south during the time when Jim Crow Laws were prominent.
“There was a local library that always asked for parents to bring their children on the weekend so they could be read to,” she says. “I always wanted to go. We would drive past it and my mother would tell me that I couldn’t go because I wasn’t allowed. That was hurtful to me.
“The Loving Story” debuted at the Full Frame Film Festival – the largest international festival for documentaries in the world – to rave reviews. Buirski is the founder of the Full Frame Film Festival, which is held each April in Durham, North Carolina. Most of the documentaries accepted into the festival are nominated for Academy Awards. “The Loving Story” has also been screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and several others, but it was the screening at Bennett that has meant the most to Trustee Powell.
“I have watched this documentary five times,” she told the students in the Chapel. “This is the first time that I have been so emotional about it. It all started here at Bennett. I was given everything I need to be where I am because of this school. This is the greatest honor.
Powell, an alumna of Bennett who now serves on the Board of Trustees, also spent an hour advising students in the Journalism and Media Studies Department on finding their passion and perfecting their craft.
“You need to be in love and married to words to be a great writer,” Trustee Powell told the excited students. “You don’t need inspiration to write; let life be your inspiration. As long as you can dream, there is writing to be done.”