Mildred Loving’s Grandson Says She Wasn’t Black
Today the movie Loving hits theaters; tstory of Mildred and Richard Loving, the interracial Virginia couple who forever changed history when they married in Washington, DC, in 1958. Though initially convicted of miscegenation, in 1967 the Supreme Court eventually declared laws banning interracial marriage unconstitutional in the monumental ruling Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia. And while, historically, this union has been told as the story of a white man and Black woman finding love, the grandson of Mildred says we’re wrong. Mildred wasn’t Black; she was Native American.
“I know during those times, there were only two colors: white and blacks,” Mark Loving told NBC 12, but she was Native American, both of her parents were Native American.”
And just like that, Mark breathed new life into the largely distorted history of African and Native American intermixing. While it’s quite possible Mildred had some Native American ancestry, it’s not likely. Henry Louis Gates pointed out in an article “High Cheekbones and Straight Hair?” on The Root: When it comes to African Americans, “only 19 percent have at least 1 percent Native American ancestry, and only 5 percent of African American people carry more than 2 percent Native American ancestry.”
A better explanation for why Mildred was identified as “Indian” on her marriage license has to do with the “Pocahontas Exception” to the Racial Integrity Act which allowed individuals with no more than 1/16th American Indian ancestry to be legally considered white.
“This loophole was tested in two landmark 1920s cases in which the defendants convinced the courts that they were of white-Indian only ancestry and therefore not in violation of the law when they married white people,” Time magazine noted in an article earlier this year. “In 1930, legislators, fearing that blacks would use the Indian claim to subvert the law, restricted the Indian classification to reservation Indians on the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Reservations in King William County, the nation’s oldest reservations. Numerous non-reservation citizens claiming an Indian identity circumvented the restriction by marrying in Washington, D. C., where they were able to obtain marriage licenses with the Indian racial designation.
“Mildred Loving was no exception. Her racial identity was informed by the deeply entrenched racial politics of her community in Central Point, Va. Residents were well aware of Virginia’s racial mores, which encouraged citizens with mixed African-Indian heritage—like Mildred Loving—to choose to identify as anything but black.”
And Mildred continued to identify as such right up until her death. Time‘s author Arica L. Coleman noted when she interviewed the interracial marriage pioneer in 2004, she told her plainly:
“I am not Black. I have no Black ancestry. I am Indian-Rappahannock. I told the people so when they came to arrest me.”
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