Most Americans have never heard of Mildred and Richard Loving. But next week, a Hollywood movie will introduce the country to a time and place — 58 years ago in Virginia — when a sheriff could burst into a couple’s bedroom and arrest them for being married.
“Loving,” which opens in theaters Nov. 4, tells the story of Mildred and Richard, young romantics who became felons when they dared to wed in 1958. She was black, he was white, and that was a crime in Virginia and 23 other states. They were arrested, convicted and banished from their home state. But their legal fight led to the 1967 landmark Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia that ended miscegenation laws in the 16 states where they were still on the books.
The pair returned to Virginia and, slowly, Virginia began to look more like them. Black hands joined with white hands at altars from Hampton Roads to Herndon as the state that once served as the capital of the Confederacy grew more populous, more diverse and more tolerant. By 2010, Virginia led the nation in the rate of black-white marriages, according to the Pew Research Center. And while racism hasn’t disappeared, the state’s marital melting pot now includes people from all over the world. Few heads turn at the sight of a Venezuelan-Indian couple or a Korean bride with her white groom or, since same-sex marriage became legal two years ago, lesbians of different colors exchanging vows.
Today, Virginia is for Lovings, as these portraits of five mixed-race marriages show.
— Steve Hendrix
Aisha and Scott Cozad, Woodbridge
They met online. They married on Loving Day.
A less brave man may not have pursued Aisha Bonner after reading her online dating profile, which was written to deter, not attract. Tired of wasting time on the wrong people, she was clear about whom she didn’t want.
Her 11-year-old son was her priority, she wrote. So if a man couldn’t deal with a child, he should move on.
She had a doctorate and loved reading, she wrote. So if a man couldn’t handle a smart woman, he should move on.
Her list went on, each description followed by the same siren blaring “move on, move on.” But Scott Cozad didn’t move on. He was swept in. He sent her an email that stretched for pages, and it was clear that despite their skin color — he’s white, and she’s black — the two shared much in common. Scott’s profile had its own siren of sorts. His picture showed him in a suit of armor, a nod to his love of historical reenactments. Aisha was swept in.
“If he had been born during the Renaissance, he would have definitely been a knight in shining armor,” the 42-year-old social science researcher said one evening sitting in the couple’s Woodbridge home.
“Eww,” her now 13-year-old son Brandon jokingly gagged.
Last year, Scott and Aisha said their vows in front of friends and relatives who have shown them nothing but support. But in many ways theirs is not a marriage of two. It is a union of three.
On their wedding day, Brandon asked Scott if he could now call him Dad. “Yeah,” Scott replied.
“Honestly, if I had tried to say more, I would have fallen to pieces,” said Scott, 40, a systems engineer.
Aisha, who took her husband’s last name, said Scott and Brandon share many similarities, among them a love of hamburgers, an ease talking to strangers and a penchant for cheesy jokes (although Brandon points out that his, at least, make people laugh).
But their union has not come without challenges. Scott, who has no children from a previous marriage, said he hasn’t had to learn only how to be a father, but also how to be a father to a black son.
A simple conversation about buying toy guns in their home carries with it the weight of a national conversation about police shootings of unarmed African Americans.
“They have all these cool Nerf guns,” Scott said. “But I’m apprehensive about getting them for him and going out there.”
“It’s more than apprehensive,” Aisha said. Her son has never played with toy guns because “I’m not going to risk his life.”
“Everyone I know has Nerf guns, even younger kids,” Brandon said, not complaining as much as explaining.
Scott also recalled how out of place he felt the first time he took Brandon to a black barbershop. By their second visit, he said he felt comfortable enough to ask the barber “dumb questions.” Now, he has the shop’s number programmed into his phone.
Before Scott met Aisha, he had never heard of Richard and Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple behind the Supreme Court’s June 12, 1967, decision to legalize interracial marriage, a date celebrated nationally as Loving Day. Then the two watched a documentary that moved them both.
Not long after that, Scott was at Brandon’s soccer game when Aisha called to say she had almost been in a car accident. He decided then that he didn’t want to move on — ever. Over the phone, he asked her to marry him. He said he knew the perfect date: Loving Day.
— Theresa Vargas