Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law

Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law

Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law

Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, & American Law


In this fascinating cultural history of interracial marriage and its legal regulation in the United States, Fay Botham argues that religion--specifically, Protestant and Catholic beliefs about marriage and race--had a significant effect on legal decisions concerning miscegenation and marriage in the century following the Civil War.

Botham argues that divergent Catholic and Protestant theologies of marriage and race, reinforced by regional differences between the West and the South, shaped the two pivotal cases that frame this volume, the 1948 California Supreme Court case of Perez v. Lippold (which successfully challenged California's antimiscegenation statutes on the grounds of religious freedom) and the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (which declared legal bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional). Botham contends that the white southern Protestant notion that God "dispersed" the races, as opposed to the American Catholic emphasis on human unity and common origins, points to ways that religion influenced the course of litigation and illuminates the religious bases for Christian racist and antiracist movements.


In early June 1958, eighteen-year-old Mildred Delores Jeter and twenty-four-year-old Richard Perry Loving drove from their hometown of Central Point, Virginia, to Washington, D.C. Sweethearts for some six years, Mildred, who was part black and part Cherokee with a light brown complexion, and Richard, who was of English-Irish descent, had decided to get married in the District of Columbia. Once their union was legalized there, they returned home to Central Point and began to build their life together.

The Lovings’ matrimonial bliss ended abruptly about five weeks later. During the wee hours of a sultry July morning, three Caroline County police officers entered the Lovings’ home through their unlocked front door. Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks and his two deputies found their way into the couple’s bedroom, shined a flashlight in their faces, and demanded to know what they were doing in bed together. When Mildred answered, “I’m his wife,” and Richard directed the officers to the District of Columbia marriage certificate that hung on the wall, Sheriff Brooks curtly informed them that their marriage was invalid in the State of Virginia. He then arrested the bewildered young couple and hauled them off to jail. There they were charged with having violated Virginia Code 20-54, which prohibited interracial marriage, and Code 20-58, which prohibited “any white person and colored person” from leaving Virginia to evade Code 20-54.

A few months later in January 1959, a Caroline County grand jury indicted Mildred and Richard for having “unlawfully and feloniously go[ne] out of the State of Virginia, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning to the State of Virginia,” and for “cohabiting as man and wife against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.” The Lovings pleaded guilty to the charges, and the Honorable Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced each to one year in the Caroline County Jail. A compassionate man, the judge suspended the jail sentence, sparing the couple from an experience behind bars and from time away from their new baby boy, born in 1958. But he did so only on the condition that they agree to . . .

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