In 1958, Mildred Jeter, a black woman, married Richard Loving, a white man, in the District of Columbia. At the time, their home state of Virginia’s laws hadn’t just banned interracial marriage: it was deemed a criminal offense. They pled guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife,” each was sentenced to one year in prison, and they were forbidden from returning to the state together for 25 years.

But little did Mildred and Richard know that when they filed suit five years later to have their conviction overturned, they would catalyze a movement. This movement continues to grow stronger with each passing year and has laid the foundation for a wide range of victories for equality in the last five decades.

My father and mother on their wedding day in 1966

Like Mildred and Richard Loving, my parents had to be married in Washington, DC. It was 1966 and they were barred from marrying in their home state of Maryland.

After their wedding, they drove back to West Baltimore from D.C. followed by a row of cars with their lights on. People pulled off the road and removed their hats because they thought it was a funeral procession.

Far from a procession of mourners, there was a proclamation by celebrants declaring: it is a right to marry who you love.

Couples like my parents are a bold example of love as resistance. My parents took a risk each night they spent together in Maryland for fear of being woken up and dragged away by the police. While his mother and brothers stood by him, my father’s grandfather and extended family disowned him. He also paid a financial price: he relinquished a hefty inheritance to follow his heart.

My father, mother, and I back in the day

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, Loving v. Virginia, I look back in awe at the sacrifices that shaped this precedent for progress.

My parents have now spent a half century together fighting for civil rights and building coalitions for progress. Their love is a constant reminder of our interwoven struggles for freedom in this country.

If there is one thing that my parents learned from defying the law and their families was that love is stronger than fear. Whether one chooses to run for public office, or pursue another act of resistance, we must be motivated by love to stand up against the unjust and the inhumane to fight for equality, for everyone, each and every day.

So in this moment, while we celebrate our victories, let us not forget our continued fights. Fights against injustice, intolerance, and a president who at every turn is pushing to expand his power and further disenfranchise so many of our communities.

We can only emerge victorious when we can come together and build large, diverse coalitions of people who dare to dream boldly and work together for our shared good. We must push every line that divides us and strive to create an America in which any person can live, despite their race, creed, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, free of discrimination.

President, People For the American Way. Visiting Scholar, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Former National President, NAACP.

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