In Depth

Loving: The true story of one interracial couple's fight to marry

How Richard and Mildred Loving became reluctant civil rights campaigners to have their love recognised

Oscar-nominated film Loving, released today in the UK, tells the true story of an interracial couple living in the southern states of the US in the 1960s and their fight to marry.

Writer-director Jeff Nichols's film chronicles the nine-year saga of Richard and Mildred Loving's courtship, marriage, arrest, exile and eventual Supreme Court triumph in 1967.

Ruth Negga stars as Mildred, a performance that has earned her an Oscar nomination, and Golden Globe-nominee Joel Edgerton plays Richard.

It is a "subtle" and "powerful" account of "one of America's most historic cases", says The Independent's film critic Geoffrey McNab. So what made the Lovings' story so important?

Richard and Mildred fell in love as young neighbours growing up in 1950s Caroline County, Virginia, an area described by Time magazine in 1966 as having "an easy-going tolerance of the race question".

However, the state as a whole wasn't so tolerant and its Racial Integrity Act, like similar laws in 24 other states at the time, banned marriage between black and white people. 

Consequently, because Richard was white and Mildred of mixed African-American and Native American descent, they went to the more accommodating Washington DC to marry after 18-year-old Mildred discovered she was pregnant.

Five weeks after the ceremony, however, they were woken from their bed at 2am by the local sheriff and taken to jail.

Their marriage licence was declared invalid and they were given a year's sentence for breaching the interracial marriage law – although the judge said he would suspend it if they left the state immediately and stayed away for 25 years.

The Lovings were forced into impoverished exile in Washington, but were re-arrested when they returned to visit Mildred's family. After being released on bail, they wrote a letter to attorney general Robert Kennedy asking for help.

This prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to take up their cause and launched the landmark civil rights case Loving vs Virginia.

A lengthy legal battle, which went right the way to the US Supreme Court, led to the Lovings' marriage finally being recognised in 1967 and ultimately to the overturning of interracial laws across America.

The quiet couple remained together until Richard was killed in a car accident in 1975.

Mildred died aged 68 in 2008, but the year before, on the 40th anniversary of the court decision, she expressed her support for same-sex marriage.

"Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry," she said. "I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom."

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