by Maddie Woodrick
Mildred and Richard Loving encompassed the idea of the all-American family during the 1960s; the two grew up in a small farm town in Virginia, and as the years progressed, they fell in love. Richard was a dedicated blue collar worker, and Mildred worked in their home. The only thing missing from their life was a legal declaration that they were a family — that Richard was Mildred’s husband, and she was his wife. There was only one problem: Mildred was of African and Native American descent, and Richard was white. Although the Lovings were able to marry in Washington, D.C in 1958, according to politifact.org, there were still sixteen states that forbade interracial marriages, including their home state of Virginia. The couple was arrested when they returned home. They avoided jail time by pleading guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth,” and agreeing to not return to the state for 25 years. The Loving’s case was processed throughout many levels of the justice system, but each time their appeal was denied; until June 12, 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, overturning the remaining laws in the United States that deemed interracial marriages illegal.
As a way to commemorate the Lovings and their immense contribution to civil rights, June 12 is celebrated as Loving Day. There are countless events across the country that work to honor the principles Loving Day was built upon, and Grand Rapids is home to the only Loving Day celebration in Michigan and one of the largest in the Midwest.
The Grand Rapids’ Loving Day celebration honors the Loving’s monumental court case while providing a platform for multiracial families to share their stories.
“I love that the Lovings offer an opportunity for inclusion, diversity, and love for all,” Edye Evans Hyde, founder of the Grand Rapids Loving Day celebration, said. “The events are not just for biracial and multiracial people, but for the whole community to come together and celebrate diversity and show that we love each other.”
After attending a Loving Day celebration in Los Angeles five years ago, Hyde was determined to bring Loving Day to Grand Rapids. Through her theatre company, Ebony Road Players, she produced a play that told the story of the Lovings. Since then, the celebration has expanded; this year, festivities include a dinner theatre on June 12 at the historic Harris Building, during which attendees will enjoy a three-course meal, a presentation of “Loving” by Ebony Road Players and an awards ceremony that will honor Monique Salinas and the late Cedric A. Ward and his wife Sandy for their contributions to promoting diversity and inclusion through the arts. On June 21 and 22, “Loving,” will performed by Ebony Road Player at Wealthy Theatre. Along with the play, on June 22 there will be an opportunity for families to come together at Sigsbee Park to enjoy music, games and food. Later that day, there will be a screening of the series, “Loving Generation,” which discusses the identity struggles of biracial families in America.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it is like to be a minority, so when you throw in a mixed race component, people understand even less. Alysha Lach-White, chair of the Loving Day celebrations in Grand Rapids, said. “So, it [Loving Day] has a really strong advocacy standpoint in that respect.”
For Lach-White, Hyde and the millions of other people who are either in an interracial marriage or come from a biracial family, Loving Day allows them to celebrate their families openly.
“Loving Day means that I get to celebrate who my family is,” Lach-White beamed. “It’s important to have strength in your cultural heritage, but at the same time, when you have a mixed family you begin to create your own culture and being able to celebrate that and not just tolerate it, is a really beautiful thing.”
To learn more and purchase tickets to the Loving Day dinner theatre celebration, click here.