In my historical romance novel, Natalie Winslow, a white woman living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1967, falls in love with a black man whose family was once held as slaves by her own. Although there is a friendly rapport between these two families, no one was prepared for them to enter into a romantic relationship.
At the time that Natalie and Tony begin dating, a marriage between them would not even be legal in their home state. That changed, however, in June of 1967, thanks to the Supreme Court’s verdict on Loving vs. the State of Virginia.
The plaintiffs in the case were Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black woman whose marriage was deemed illegal according to Virginia state law. They had married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, where interracial marriage was legal, and returned to Virginia to live. They were arrested, taken to trial, and given the choice between serving one year in jail or leaving the state with their three children for twenty-five years.
On June 12, 1967, in a unanimous decision, the justices found that Virginia’s interracial marriage law violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Not only did this ruling overturn the criminal conviction of the Lovings in 1958, it overrode the anti-miscegenation laws of sixteen states, including Virginia and Maryland.
“Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the state,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote.
In 2016, the movie “Loving” was released, based on the couple’s story.
Prior to this verdict, any couple who wished to be in a relationship, but were not of the same race, were placed in a very difficult position. They must either risk the consequences of defying the law, relocate to a state where it was permitted, or live without the one they loved. In WHEN THE FIRST QUAIL CALLS, the diary Natalie discovers reveals just how complicated such a decision was for biracial couples during the 1800’s.