The Right to Marry: City of Alexandria Installs Panels Recognizing Landmark Supreme Court Case

Lawyers who represented first interracial couple to wed in Virginia had office on Royal Street

A panel on the northeast corner of King and Pitt streets recognizes Virginia’s first interracial marriage. (Photo courtesy City of Alexandria)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia changed history. It concerned Richard Loving, a White man, and Mildred Loving, a Black woman, who were sentenced to a year in jail for marrying in 1958. Soon after the sentence, the couple appealed and hired an Alexandria-based law firm, Cohen, Cohen, and Hirschkop, to represent them in Virginia’s Supreme Court.

On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous vote, overturned the Lovings’ convictions. The court found that the law as it was written violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in particular the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses.

Chief Justice Earl Warren, in his opinion, wrote, “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Recognizing History

To recognize the ruling and the part Alexandria played in it, the city has installed new panels along King and Royal Streets, where visitors and residents can learn about the case and what followed. The panels read:

“The law office of Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop was here at 110 N. Royal Street on June 12, 1967, the day they were notified that their Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia had been decided unanimously in their favor. The plaintiffs, Mildred and Richard Loving, had sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for its ban on interracial marriage. The day after the decision was announced, the Lovings held a press conference in the office of their attorneys in Suite 300. The ruling by the Supreme Court not only voided Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law but legalized interracial marriage throughout the country.”

What Happened to the Lovings?

After the decision, the Lovings lived in Caroline County and had three children. In 1975, Richard was killed by a drunk driver. Mildred never remarried and died in 2008.

A Recollection of the Decision

Years later, someone asked Phillip Hirschkop how he and Bernard Cohen found out that their clients won the case. He said: “I had a call from a reporter at the old Washington Star. He was their Supreme Court reporter [and he said] that it would be coming down the next morning. So, we’re in our office. We had clerks in those days. We didn’t have the electronic ability to …[get] the opinion as soon as it came down….we were sitting in the library on Royal Street when we got that opinion [delivered]. And I spoke with the reporter because he had [already] had a chance to read it…before we…got it from [the Supreme Court clerk’s] office. So, I knew what was in it. And then we had a secretary place a call to the Lovings.”

A Lasting Legacy

Loving v. Virginia was one of the many court cases that formed the legal argument for civil rights. It also asserted that the right to marry was a constitutional right. The case was consistently cited in the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage.

To learn more, click HERE.

ICYMI: ALIVE! Hosts Food Distribution Event Saturday Morning, Sept. 26