June 12th is marked by an act of hate (the murder of Medgar Evers), the triumph of love (the Supreme Court victory in Loving) and Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall.
Medgar Evers Killed
Medgar Evers, the NAACP’s field secretary for Mississippi was gun downed outside his home just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s nationally televised Civil Rights Address by KKK-member Byron De La Beckwith. All-white juries twice deadlocked on De La Beckwith’s guilt, but he was retried in 1994 based on new evidence and convicted.
Love Wins in the Supreme Court
When the white Richard Loving married his African-American wife Mildred in Washington, D.C.in 1958 and returned to their home in Central Point, Virginia, local police raided their home and they were charged with “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth”. The two pled guilty and were sentenced to one-year in prison with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. The trial judge wrote:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
The two filed a class-action claiming the Virginia law violated their right to Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment. On June 12, 1967, a unanimous Supreme Court agreed, with Chief Justice Earl Warren writing the opinion:
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 Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. 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.
A major feature film, “Loving” will be released this fall and was nominated for a Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall
Speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Ronald Reagan delivered the following challenge to Soviet leader Gorbachev:
There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
The speech received very little media attention in the U.S. and in Europe and it become etched in pop culture only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.