In March, 1966, LIFE magazine published Grey Villet’s photos of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple in Virginia who were in the process of challenging the state’s anti-miscegenation laws, first in Virginia’s Supreme Court and later in the U.S. Supreme Court. June 12 is the 50th anniversary of the high court’s eventual decision to strike down the law in Virginia and 16 other states. On the occasion, Princeton Architectural Press has published The Lovings: An Intimate Portrait, a book of Villet’s photos of the couple and their family with essays by Villet’s wife, Barbara Villet, and photojournalist Stephen Crowley.
The couple’s story has been told in documentaries and fictional films, but the book offers an intimate look at their life at a particular moment, mid-way through the drama of their story. Villet photographed the couple while they were secretly living in a Virginia farmhouse rented under an assumed name, as they waited for their case to move forward. The couple had returned to Virginia after spending five years in Washington, DC, where they fled after a Virginia judge told them they could either go to jail for their crime of being married, or leave the state. They decided to return to be closer to family and friends, and with help from lawyers they found through Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the ACLU, Bernard S. Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, they went to court. The couple knew that others would benefit from their struggle if they succeeded, but as the LIFE story makes clear, they were primarily motivated by a simple desire to be together.
That romantic sense comes through in Villet’s photos, which show a broader and more complex version of the Lovings’ lives than the four-page magazine story could. In a wood-paneled office, they meet with their lawyers while their daughter looks on, bored. They kiss and talk on the porch and hang out with their sharply dressed, multiracial group of friends at the speedway, where Richard and two buddies race the dragster they fixed up. They play with their three children on the couch, visit with family, and shop for groceries in another county, where they will not be recognized by law enforcement. As Barbara Villet writes in the book, “What began to emerge before [Villet’s] lenses was a portrait of them as a quintessentially ordinary couple extraordinarily in love with each other.”
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