Loving, Fifty Years Later

It has been fifty years since the Supreme Court struck down laws against miscegenation–interracial marriage–in the case of Loving v. Virginia. At the time the decision was handed down, sixteen states–all in the south–still had such laws on their books. The anniversary of the decision is being marked by various magazine articles, and a movie about the couple at the heart of the case (aptly named Loving) has just been released.

My students tend to think of laws forbidding interracial marriage as part of a bizarre and distant past. They have enough trouble understanding the hysteria that preceded and accompanied recognition of same-sex marriage, and to them 1967 seems as distant as 1867. Many of us in older generations, however, are painfully aware of the stubborn persistence of such laws well into our own adulthoods.

Loving is a great teaching tool, because it squarely addresses the central issue of public administration and political philosophy: what is the proper role of the state? What is government for? What sorts of decisions are appropriately made by legislatures acting on behalf of popular majorities, and what sorts of decisions represent an unwarranted intrusion into realms that should be left to individual citizens?

Despite the fact that our Constitution was based upon a belief in limited government, America’s history is replete with examples of the tensions between the respect for individual liberties that animates the Bill of Rights, and the desire of moralists to use government to control the behavior of their neighbors.

Back in 2007, I wrote a book called God and Country: America in Red and Blue, in which I examined the religious roots of public policy disputes; in it, I posited that a significant number of our most intractable debates can be explained by a conflict  in worldviews originally rooted in religious ways of understanding reality. It is a battle between those I dubbed “modernists” and those I called “Puritans.”

These differences are far more profound than we usually recognize.

Our contemporary Puritans are philosophical heirs of the early American settlers who came to these shores for a version of liberty that most of us would not recognize. The folks who braved the trip across the Atlantic came for the religious “liberty” to impose the correct religion on their neighbors. The notion that each of us should have the right to believe as we wish–let alone live lives based upon those beliefs– was utterly foreign to them. It would be another 150 years until the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment  changed our forebears understanding of liberty to the more libertarian construction  incorporated in our founding documents.

That libertarian construction is based upon respect for individual autonomy–the belief that people should be free to live their lives as they see fit, until and unless they harm the person or property of another, and so long as they are willing to accord an equal right to others.

It can be very difficult to agree upon the sorts of harms that justify government intervention, and there are many good-will disagreements over the propriety of such things as seat-belt laws and smoking bans. But it really strains credulity to argue that your choice of a non-traditional spouse somehow harms me.

Loving reminds us of the importance of distinguishing between issues that government can properly decide, and areas where government doesn’t belong.

Tomorrow, at the polls, most of our contemporary Puritans will vote for authoritarianism and a government that does not respect America’s Constitutional limits. Let’s hope the Modernists outvote them.


  1. I think we should also note that many of the original colonists were from religious minorities who had migrated precisely to avoid having other people’s religions or practices forced upon them. (I’m Jewish, and I grew up attending one of the many schools in the Philadelphia area run by the Society of Friends (Quakers).). The tension between the Puritans and the libertarians may not have been as intense during the colonial period, but both streams of thought were clearly present.

  2. When I was a high school student, the city school I attended allowed a group which called itself the Good News Club to meet in school (not during class time) and promote Christianity to lost souls like me. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the school could not allow such meetings. I attended one meeting and then was finished w Good News, and my take away was that Christianity was not for me – so far, so good.

  3. Interesting – I thought that the original european immigrants to this country came here to avoid being forced to follow the religious beliefs of others. I was unaware that those very same people felt the need to force their religious beliefs on others at that time. However, it certainly makes sense since many members of modern society believe they should have that right and power. Mike Pence?

  4. Aimee,

    “…..I grew up attending one of the many schools in the Philadelphia area run by the Society of Friends.”

    Because of the influence of the Society of Friends, Philadelphia was described as “The City of Brotherly LOVE.” When I was attending the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-fifties it was described as “The Democracy Bus.” It’s was not a coincidence, since Penn was founded by Benjamin Franklin who was a Quaker. Also, Bryn Mawr and Haverford were founded by Quakers. Both terrific schools.

    I like the word EGALITARIAN better than the word libertarian.

    e-gal-i-tar-i-an (e gal’e ter’ e an) adj. [<Fr. egalite, equality] advocating full political, social, and economic equality for all people–n. a person advocating this.
    ~Webster's New World Dictionary

    I just a finished reading a new release entitled: "The Politicians & The Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics" by Sean Wilentz (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016). It's an outstanding historical explanation of why we're in our present political turmoil, and why we might not be able to escape it.

  5. If I gave you Indianapolis residents my friend’s name, you would recognize her as a well-known and very popular local Black entertainer for decades. She began at age 17 singing in clubs on Indiana Avenue and progressed to singing in the finest clubs and lounges; posting only her first name and that she was appearing drew crowds.

    Her second marriage was to a white man who was CEO at a major corporation at the time, now gone from the city. Due to the law against intermarriage in Indiana, they went to Chicago to be married. When the law here was repealed they wanted to remarry at home with family and friends. The went to the Marion County Clerk’s Office to obtain a marriage license and the little old white woman refused to issue them a licence, telling them it would be illegal because they would be committing bigamy. My friends left laughing and remained married for many years till his death from cancer.

    These small, cramped minds with the belief they are being good Christians and following the Bible are seeking to once again control this city, this state and this country. We must stop them tomorrow; it will only be a first step to stop the backward march and begin moving forward again. Once we stop Trump’s election to the presidency and clear the bigots at state levels, we can begin working on SCOTUS to have our civil rights returned, repeal Citizens United and take this country off of the auction block.

    Being a white woman who, as a teenager had “colored” friends in the midi-1950’s and defied society long after the repeal of this ugly law against miscegenation by marrying a Black man, my racism has taken a different view. I often wonder why Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Mideasterner or any other race, wants to marry into the white race which is primarily controlled by racism and bigotry. Just one old white woman’s opinion on the subject.

  6. JoAnn,

    “Due to the law against intermarriage in Indiana, they went to Chicago to be married.”

    That same law against intermarriage (miscegenation) in Indiana, which was a standard throughout the U.S. at the time, until the Supreme Court decision abolished it, was also the model for the Nuremberg Laws against the Jews in Nazi Germany. Let’s not forget all our accomplishments, both the good and the bad.

  7. As usual, you’ve written a wonderful essay, Dr. Kennedy, but today, my main thanks goes to all the commenters. So, thank you, Commenters, for sharing your stories and opinions with a guy born on a farm in 1943 in Hamilton Co., where I did see and know a few people who weren’t White, but grew up after 1953 in Wells Co. where there were no Black people at all, and which during the 1950s the ‘sundown rule’ was still current and promoted, and is today considered the “most Republican” county in the state.

  8. The Puritans were not so pure. They took muskets in hand to tame the savages on the one hand while saving their souls on Sunday. It is not surprising that they tended to force conformity to their religious views since many of them came to America from just such an environment but were in the minority and were persecuted. We have made progress, albeit slowly and unevenly, from the days in which a young white man of the South, when asked what he had been doing that day, answered that he had been “nigger huntin’.” Against the definition of ability to procreate, there is, of course, no such thing as race in any event, only color, an environmental outcome. In time, the world will be Brazilian as the race tans out and words such as Oriental and black and white become artifacts in linguistic history (assuming we last long enough to see it happen in this world of nuclear weaponry and Trumps).

  9. Steve,

    “but grew up after 1953 in Wells Co. where there were no Black people at all, and which during the 1950s the ‘sundown rule’ was still current and promoted”

    I’m a few years older, but growing up in Jacksonville which according to many is the “most Republican City [county] in America, I still remember the sign on U.S. 1 when entering the city [ Jacksonville is still a town] warning Blacks about the “sundown rule.”

    Rat F**king, gerrymandering, I believe started here in Jacksonville during the 60’s. Jacksonville, along with Detroit and Birmingham, had one of the largest concentration of African-Americans in the U.S. MLK’s success in St. Augustine was a turning point, because of our problems we were having in Africa with the Soviet competition, Civil Rights legislation was a forgone unanimous conclusion. However, Jacksonville’s answer to “egalitarianism” or the civil rights movement,as it is still called, was to extend the city limits to encompass the whole county in order to diminish the effect of the African-American voters, who almost entirely resided in the city and not in the outskirts. Jacksonville was now both city and county. I believe, at one time, Jacksonville was the Largest City in the World [in land mass] that is. Talking about deception!

  10. I owe my marriage to the Loving couple because no one batted an eye about me marrying my husband 10 yrs ago. At least not at the clerk’s office where we had to register our marriage…but our families had other opinions. My family just needed to get to know him to like/love him but I’ve never met his family…so there’s that.

  11. Marv as you probably already know, Jacksonville wasn’t alone.

    Think UniGov in Marion County. UniGov came about and actually became the law when the Republicans realized in the early 60’s that due to changing demographics, they would eventually lose control of the Indianapolis City government. So they created UniGov, which brought all the suburban, white Republican voters into the fold, thereby ensuring Republican control over Indianapolis and Marion Cty. for many more years — at least until a large number of those suburban white folks moved north to Hamilton Cty. or south to Johnson Cty.

    Actually, the idea behind UniGov itself wasn’t bad, and I’m still an admirer of Dick Lugar (even though I didn’t always agree with him), who helped usher UniGov in. In many ways UniGov could and should have been smart, progressive government. The problem was, of course, that a huge portion of the important aspects of local government were left out, i.e., most importantly the schools, the police departments, the township trustees, and even all the small towns, which had been engulfed by Indianapolis, such as Beech Grove, Speedway, and even Rocky Ripple. Now you could chalk those omissions up to either political expediency (it wouldn’t have been enacted otherwise) or to racial motives — or perhaps a little of both. Regardless of the motivation, UniGov enabled the Republican Party to maintain political control over Indianapolis for many more years. In some ways that was a good thing. One example: Indianapolis likely wouldn’t have had the good fortune to have had Bill Hudnut (another Republican I greatly respect) as Mayor without UniGov.

    Come to think of it. Where are the Republicans like Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut these days?

  12. David F,

    “…Marv as you probably know, Jacksonville wasn’t alone.”

    Jacksonville like Indianapolis for a short time was moving forward, probably not as long as Indianapolis. Its slogan was Jacksonville: “The Bold City of the New South.” I believe things started to go “sour” nationwide in 1992 with the election of Bill Clinton and the Republican opposition to it. That’s the year I returned to Jacksonville, after living in Dallas for over 25 years. A new Republican mayor was elected that year and was much more under control by the racist oligarchy, not composed of southern Democrats anymore, but all ultra-conservative Republicans. The three previous mayors who were all Democrats were much more tolerant on racial matters.

  13. Can humans ever evolve to become collaborative rather than combative and competitive?

    Indigenous peoples first of all never where. Everyone is out of Africa. They colonialized other tribes at every opportunity only to be colonialized themselves by European colonialists who were escaping from being colonialized themselves by other European tribes.

    It’s all about power. The class struggles in America aren’t newe, they are merely unresolved.

    It used to be land that was contested and now it’s money and control of resources.

    We have always dreamed of peace but thought of power.

    What’s standing today between the American dream and chaos is a piece of parchment. But a great one.

    Hopefully Weds it will still stand and government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

  14. David F, I have a friend who lives in Lake County, Indiana. He had heard about Uni-Gov – Indianapolis. He was under the impression we had one Mayor in County, City County Council, school system, police and fire departments. I had to try to explain what you just commented on. Marion County is far from one unified political system. Uni-Gov had at large Councilors until the Democrats began winning them. Then in a not so peculiar twist the State political hierarchy decided at large was not a good idea for Indianapolis Uni-Gov. The City of Lawrence an enclave within Marion County has at large Councilors. I guess what is good for the goose in this case is not good for the gander.

    It surprises me on occasion how entrenched the theocracy is here in Indiana. Politicians have to always recite they are for Hoosier Values what ever that maybe. I guess Hoosier Values can take on what ever form or shape your audience thinks it is. So it is sort of funny in a perverse way the Hoosier – Family values Theocratic Pence running with Trumpet who has values (if you can call it values) the exact opposite of Pence.

  15. OFF TOPIC:
    Writing about Uni-Gov in Marion Cty. reminds me that there is a little known — to the rest of the world and as time goes by likely either not known or forgotten even by many locals — amazing and remarkable story to be told about how the City of Indianapolis came to be what it is today. If any of you, who might take the time to this read this, are old enough, as I am, to remember what downtown Indianapolis and the inner city neighborhoods close to downtown were like in the late 60’s and 70’s, you will know what I mean. When I first started working downtown in 1972, they literally “rolled-up the sidewalks” after 5 pm and on the weekends. No people there. Nothing open. Nothing to do. Sure, Market Square Arena got built in 1974, but there was nothing else around it, or to do downtown if you went there for a game or concert. A few places like St. Elmos (not to forget Shapiro’s just south of downtown) managed to survive, but little else.

    The people I call the “movers and shakers,” i.e., mostly wealthy, influential, the “Blue Bloods” of Indianapolis, for the most part white men, put aside their considerable political differences, and decided to work together to put Indianapolis on the map. They not only did so, initially with a good deal of help of money from the Lilly Foundation, but succeeded likely beyond their wildest imagination.

    Taking stock of what advantages a small, land-locked, back-water, Midwestern city in the middle of flat corn and soybean fields, known to the rest of the world, if at all, for only the Indy 500, might have to offer, they came up with the “amateur sports” strategy, which a lot of nay-sayers believed was doomed to failure. Their first big coup was getting the Pan Am Games to come to Indy in 1987. Due to the willingness of a huge number of citizens to volunteer to help put on the games, the Pan Am Games were not only a great success, but they managed to leverage the Games to build several downtown venues such as the Pan Am Building and Plaza, and perhaps most importantly instilled some confidence. As they say, the rest is history.

    Soon after, Indy managed to get the rights to a major men’s ATP tennis tournament, which was held for many years on the IUPUI campus. The building of the “Hoosier Dome,” which enabled Bill Hudnut to steal the Colts from Baltimore, White River State Park with an assist from State government which led to getting the NCAA headquarters, the State Museum, the Eiteljorg, the Zoo, the eventual building of Circle Center Mall (heck, even Steve Goldsmith should get a bit of credit for filling in the huge city block wide hole that Bill Hudnut wasn’t able to get built on, of course with a lot of help from the Simons). It all grew out of that group’s initial efforts and work, of course, with help from a lot of other people and sources along the way.

    What I actually think is the really remarkable part of the story –not solely that they pulled it off — is that I cannot imagine that it could ever be done again anywhere in the country. Today, the thought that die-hard Republicans and Democrats could come together to map out a bold strategy to make their city a better place to live, and then work closely together to make it happen sounds like a fairy tale from a different world.

    Professor Kennedy I apologize for high jacking your Blog.

  16. Steve – I grew up on a Hamilton Co. farm in the same era as you and had never met a person of color – except for visiting missionaries and a migrant worker or two – until after I graduated from high school. My father was a child when KKK leader D.C. Stephenson was convicted of murderous crimes in a Noblesville courtroom. It left a deep impression on him, and he was forever suspicious of secret and discriminatory societies throughout his life.

    Societal inclinations are for birds of a feather to flock together. But I’m SO thankful for the giants in history and the good souls in every community who reach across racial, religious, ethnic, economic, and cultural divides to bridge differences. My granddaughter reminded me one day in her own way that this is what this presidential election is about. Trump wants to divide and denigrate many people; Hillary wants to include and bring them together.

    There’s hope for America.

  17. David F., No apology necessary. I lived in Indianapolis during the time you reference–I was a member of the Hudnut Administration from 1977-80, and I witnessed first-hand what you described. The GOP was a very different party then. Lugar and Hudnut Republicans (of whom I was one) cared about good government. I still remember a favorite phrase of the then-County Chairman, John Sweezy: “good government IS good politics.”

    When one party in a two-party system goes off the rails, and fails to act as a counterbalance, the other party ends up fairly dysfunctional as well.

  18. Thanks Professor. I know both you and your husband played a part in this taking place. I tried to keep the post as short as possible, but in re-reading it, I think I gave short shrift to the so-called “Public-Private Partnership” that made all of it possible.

    During a good part of the time this took place, there were Democratic Governors in the State House, and while they might not have controlled the State Legislature, the Democrats at least shared in power. The State with the backing of Democratic Governors and Republican legislators and working with Republican Bill Hudnut was influential in getting White River State Park and the Hoosier Dome built. There were plenty of people who objected to using their taxes to build things that only rich people would or could use or which were only for people in Indianapolis.

    Bill Hudnut took huge risks, both financially for the city and politically, by getting the Hoosier Dome built with no guarantee that it would ever have a full or even part time tenant. He took another big risk in acquiring and tearing down a city block wide swath of buildings in the middle of downtown, leaving nothing but a huge hole in the ground that filled up with water after heavy rains for a couple of years, with no guarantee that anything would ever get built there. Those risks have happily paid off. But as you say without members of both parties working to get it done along with private businesses and enterprises, Indianapolis would not be the City it is now. And without all the downtown development, it is highly unlikely that much of the growth and development in the adjoining counties and cities, such as Carmel, would have occurred either.

  19. Here is an interesting follow-up to your column of the Governor of Oklahoma praying for oil and thanking God for oil. “We’re asking churches all over Oklahoma to open their doors, put on a pot of coffee and pray for the oil field,” Rev. Tom Beddow, a member of Oklahoma’s Oil Patch Chaplains ministry, told the Oklahoman.

    There was earthquake in Oklahoma near the city of Cushing, OK, 5.0 magnitude. It was Sunday evening of all days. Cushing’s oil storage terminal is one of the world’s largest. The community bills itself as the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” >> That pot of coffee may have been knocked over.

    Earthquake rates in Oklahoma and Texas have skyrocketed since 2008. The cause, scientists say, is injecting wastewater from oil and gas operations into deep underground wells. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/drilling-for-earthquakes/

    I think we can be certain science will be dismissed in Oklahoma by the politicos. Sin is the probable cause, more Prayer will be the solution.

  20. At 80 years old, I well remember the gradual evolution of African American social acceptance in NYC, from isolated instances of mixed marriage to total acceptance. Now, it is no big deal except for those with a religious bias they cannot shake. How sad it is that Old Testament passages are still claimed to support this bias without question.

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