|Photo Credit : Lens|
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day that I always forget is coming until it's already here. A day I make a mental note to it's existence but never really celebrate. I don't know what is different this year, but something changed. Maybe I'm growing up and realizing these holidays have meaning and these people we are celebrating changed our world. Maybe it's the elevated spotlight in the news about inequality, injustice and abuse. Maybe I'm personally feeling vulnerable and emotional due to family changes and things I scanned over in the past suddenly have a greater meaning.
No matter the reason, I decided to reread the famous speech I have a dream. I began crying. I'm still teary as I write to you now. What I couldn't get over is that this speech was said in front of millions in 1963, a year before my mother was born. This was not generations ago, this was only one generation ago.
As a Wedding Planner I can't help but relate most things in life to weddings, marriage, love, relationships. It's how my brain operates. This speech was given four years before interracial marriage was made legal nationwide by the Supreme Court, when my mother was three years old. This was not generations ago, this was only one generation ago.
When this speech took place there were people fighting to be able to live as man and wife in their own home towns without persecution, only because they had different color skin tones. I'm so moved and touched and humbled by the struggle that some have had to go through for the rights they deserve. I have never had a moment in my life where I have second guessed loving the person of my choice or being scared I wouldn't be allowed to marry them. This was a real fear for loving and upright couples all through the first half of the last century. One of the stories that touches my heart the most is of Loving vs. Virginia. Their struggle was not generations ago, but only one generation ago...
This story takes place in my home state of Virginia. The tale begins in June of 1958 as a couple Mildred and Richard travel to Washington D.C. to wed after finding out they would soon be parents. They were residents of Central Point, Virginia but had to go north to the nation's capital to actually become man and wife to avoid the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. After returning to their small town, full of newly wed bliss and excitement over their family growing with the new tot on the way, they were raided. Officers, following an anonymous tip, came to their home at night hoping to find them having sex, which was a crime according to the state laws at the time. When the officers found the couple sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. Instead of discouraging the officers, this became evidence of "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth". They soon had criminal charges brought against them both.
|Photo Credit : Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of my Black Sisters|
The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia. This was classified as a felony and was punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years. The judge, Leon M. Bazile, concurred with the 18th-century interpretation of race, wrote:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for races to mix."
Can you believe this? Can you imagine this being true? It's sad but only half a century ago, people still did.
On January 6, 1959 the Lovings pled guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia, so they did. They moved back to the place of their wedding, Washington D.C. to seek out acceptance and the simple ability to live as a married couple in the eyes of the law.
Five years later they were frustrated. They were not able to travel or visit family together. They were isolated and not able to flourish financially in the only place they legally could be married. They decided to fight back. The first step was Mildred Loving writing a protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU filed a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the Virginia trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violation statues ran counter to the 14th Amendment. This set in motion a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the Supreme Court.
After loosing in the Supreme Court and their conviction standing, they still didn't stop. They send their lawyer, Bernard S. Cohen to repeal once again. Richard Loving reportedly asked the lawyer to pass on a simple message "Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."
Only three years later on June 12, 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Lovings' convictions in a unanimous decision, dismissing the Commonwealth of Virginia's argument that a law forbidding both white and black persons from marrying persons of another race. They further ruled that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion for the court was as follows:
"Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed the the State."
Four years after the famous speech that inspired a country and ignited a movement, it was legal anywhere in the nation to marry someone with any shade of skin. A right that no one ever should of had to fight for in the first place.
I want to say thank you to Mildred and Richard for being heros. Thank you for being role models of standing up for what you believe in and standing beside the person you love. You are ordinary people that became special the day you decided that enough was enough.
I have wondered while researching if Mildred and Richard were inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and his beautiful dreams of the future. I wonder if they have anything to do with the fact that Virginia's state motto is "Virginia is for Lovers". I wonder how many of us have lived in the light of never worrying about racial marriage issues because these two were so strong.
So in honor of Mildred and Richard and many others that blazed a path of freedom for our country I'd like to share this speech by the beloved Martin Luther King Jr., that is so much deeper and so much more meaningful than I ever realized. The words have changed for me. When is the last time you really read word for word what beautiful picture was being painted? Here it is if you need a reminder:
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
I vow to stand up for what is right in my business and personal life. To honor marriage equality for any couple regardless of age, race, social status, religious background or gender. I hope to be a very small part in a huge change that has been happening in our country. Thank you again to those who came before us and paved the way to a life of choice and freedom.