To read Sheryll Cashin’s Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy from beginning to end is to review the nation’s tense, violent and unsavory struggle to come to terms with interracial relationships over the course of 400 years.
Cashin takes readers from the country’s inception all the way up to present day America. The book’s central thread revolves around the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginia couple who won a landmark case for the legalization of interracial relationships in the United States and set a precedent for same sex marriage 48 years later.
“Since Loving was decided, race mixing and same-sex marriage have gained acceptance, and social tolerance is rising for people and lifestyles that diverge from white, patriarchal, heterosexual norms,” Cashin writes.
In 1958, the Lovings travelled to Washington, D.C. to marry and returned to their home in Central Point, Va. Richard was a white man and Mildred identified as Native American, but to the state of Virginia she was “colored” or “negro,” making their union illegal. A month after they were wed, local police invaded their home in the middle of the night and arrested the couple. They pled guilty to “cohabitating as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.”
The pair was banished from their home for 25 years and moved to Washington, D.C. for four years before Mildred eventually wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. At the time, 16 Southern states still had laws on the books that banned “miscegenation,” or mixing of the races. Their case made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which in 1967 decided that a person’s decision to marry cannot be infringed upon by the state and anti-miscegenation laws were racist.
Cashin does not shy away from the historical hypocrisy of these banned unions, noting that although race mixing was largely illegal throughout slavery, the rule did not apply to white male slave masters.
Prominent historical figures like President Thomas Jefferson and Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson were known for having relationships with their slaves. Jefferson fathered slave children with Sally Hemings, a slave woman, and while he freed some of their children in his will, he never freed her. Johnson had a common-law marriage and children with a slave woman, Julia Chinn, and was largely ridiculed for it.
“Southerners were well aware that masters might take a slave woman as a mistress, and they were used to pretending not to notice the pale-colored babes showing up in the master’s yard. But it was virtually unheard of for a public figure to attempt to make such a relationship official, much less to thrust his mulatto children on polite white society,” Cashin writes.
Apprehension was present for black people as well – Cashin carefullly details the reaction some African Americans had to interracial marriage, describing the uproar famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass faced when he married Helen Pitts, a white woman. Black journalists and thought leaders decried the marriage, his second after the death of his African American wife Anna, and the bride’s own abolitionist father did not approve. Douglass, who was mixed-race himself, was well aware his decision disappointed many, writing to a friend “what business has the world with the color of my wife?”
The book transports readers to current day, pointing out that while interracial marriages are now legal and widely accepted, they are still a small percentage of the population. In 2015, Cashin writes that 19.7 percent of cohabiting partners were interracial or interethnic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Additionally, Cashin notes, white people still tend to surround themselves with other white people which can diminish the experiences of people of color. When a white person enters into a relationship with a person of another race, they can no longer ignore the kinds of inequity and racism their partner may face daily, she writes.
“Ardent integrators, someone captured by the power of love, don’t have the luxury of invoking that choice if their partner has a different perspective and they want the relationship to thrive.”
Sheryll Cashin will appear on the panel “Race and Identity, One Year After Charlottesville” at 9:30 a.m. in the Old Supreme Court room. Other panelists include W. Ralph Eubanks, Jabari Asim, and Imani Perry.