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Attorney in landmark case remembers representing the Lovings, a Caroline County interracial couple

 A plaque and quill memorialize Cohen's appearance before the United States Supreme Court, where he successfully argued against Virginia's law barring interracial marriage.
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Date published: 6/10/2007


Interracial marriages now make up about 3 percent of all unions in America, according to the latest census numbers. Almost 1.7 million couples classified themselves as interracial in 2002, nearly three times as many as in 1980.

"April 10 [1967] was one of the signal events of my life," Cohen said. "And it was the only time I've ever argued a case before the Supreme Court."

Cohen and his wife, Rae Rose, moved to Spotsylvania County in May 2006. He has a son, Bennett, a daughter, Karen, and three grandchildren.

Hirschkop, now 70, went on to lead the fight for a number of liberal causes, including animal rights and freedom of speech for American Nazis and Vietnam War protesters. He and Cohen split their partnership in 1972, but continued to work in law firms only three blocks apart. He retired in 2006.

Mildred Loving, now 67, lives quietly in Milford in Caroline County, some 20 miles from Cohen's Fawn Lake residence. He keeps in touch with her by phone and talked to her as recently as late May.

She declined to be interviewed for this story, citing health issues.

Richard Loving died in 1975 at age 41 in an auto accident.

Bazile died at age 76 in March 1967, three months before the Supreme Court overruled him in the Loving case.

"What the Lovings did was never a crime." Cohen said. "If you ask me, the crime was the passage of the statute."

Hugh Muir: 540/735-1975
Email: hmuir@freelancestar.com

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CHIEF JUSTICE EARL WARREN The heart of the Supreme Court's 1967 decision, written by Chief Justice Warren, said this: Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the 14th Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. 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." JOHANN BLUMENBACH

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a prominent German physiologist (1752-1840), divided the human species into five races: the Caucasian or white race, the Mongolian or yellow race, the Malayan or brown race, the Ethiopian or black race and the American or red race. In his era, physical characteristics such as skin color were linked to intelligence and abilities. Such concepts of race persisted until the mid-20th century, when scientists--and the courts--defined Homo sapiens as a single and inherently equal race.


Circuit Judge Leon M. Bazile drew on Blumenbach in his January 1965 defense of Virginia's ban on mixed marriages. "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents," Bazile said. " The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix."

In a statement accompanying its 1967 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court responded to Bazile by saying that distinctions drawn according to race were generally "odious to a free people" and that Virginia's law constituted "invidious racial discrimination." The court rejected the state's argument that the statute was legitimate because it applied equally to both blacks and whites.