But while the case is still talked about in law schools and by some activist groups, Jungmiwha Bullock, president of the Association of Multi-Ethnic Americans, an advocacy organization for mixed race people, said much of the larger population remains unfamiliar with the history. "We shy away from talking about race in public and when we do it gets sticky and political," she said. "But that doesn't mean we can't start."
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, Bullock has coordinated an international academic conference to take place later this month at Roosevelt University.
Bullock's efforts are not alone. Ken Tanabe, a graphics designer from New York City, wants June 12 to be a universally recognized day called "Loving Day." For the last four years, he has spearheaded annual celebrations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and other cities across the nation.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Tanabe addressed a crowd of 1,000 people at a Lower East Side park in New York City to celebrate Loving Day 2007. "I'd like to take this opportunity to say, 'Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Loving,'" he said over the microphone. "Can I get everyone to join me?' I want you to say the words on the count of three!"
The product of a Japanese-Belgian interracial marriage himself, 29-year-old Tanabe said he only learned about the Loving decision as an adult—while surfing the Web. "I was shocked, stunned, I never heard of the Lovings…" he said. "How did I miss this?"
By throwing parties with an educational and community-building mission, Tanabe hopes the Loving decision will help fight present-day prejudice and become as recognizable to his generation as Brown v. Board of Education and Plessy v. Ferguson.
"Honestly, without the case I don't even know if I would be here because my parents couldn't have gotten married," said Tanabe. "I don't think I would have been born." While a federal holiday may be a long way in the making, Tanabe hopes people across the nation will adopt June 12 and pass it down to generations as a day to remember all that the Lovings fought for.
Following the 1958 arrest, the Lovings were sentenced to a year in jail, but the sentencing was suspended as long the couple left the state and did not return together for 25 years. At the hearing, the county circuit judge Leon Bazile infamously stated that God created the races and placed them on separate continents. "The fact that He separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix," he said.
The Lovings spent the next five years in Washington, D.C., away from friends and family. Longing to return to rural Virginia, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who in turn urged the couple to seek help from the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The only goal I had was to bring my family back to our roots and raise them in the country where I grew up," said Loving. "We hadn't hurt anyone. I didn't understand why we had to leave."
Attorney Bernard Cohen, a member of the ACLU, received a short letter from the Lovings explaining how they had three children and could not afford an attorney. "I took the case to put the final nail in the coffin of racism," Cohen said.
He teamed up with attorney Philip Hirschkop, and at no fee, they reopened the case in the Virginia courts, appealing each losing decision until the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.