Loving vs. Virginia (Chronicle Books, February 2017) by Patricia Hruby Powell is more than just a book about the interracial couple who challenged Virginia's anti-miscegenation law. It is a documentary novel, which combines free verse, black and white illustrations by Shadra Strickland in the Visual Journalism style, period photographs, and copies of civil rights documents. The net result is a book which will teach middle and high school students about the black struggle for equal rights.
As I often do when reviewing free verse novels, here are excerpts from some poems that show Mildred and Richard's love and struggles. These quotes speak for themselves; Powell's poignant verse intimately connects the characters with the reader.
(this is in the middle of a poem about a community gathering at Mildred's house. Fall 1952)
One of the fathers calls
a square dance
and everyone joins in.
I surely dance.
Some of the big boys dance.
Mr. and Mrs. Loving--
eyes fastened on each other
even when they've been passed
to the next person--
their names are
Twilley and Lola.
I love their names.
But we call them
Mr. and Mrs. Loving
And they pretty much are.
If I stop and watch
I see young and old--
Indians, Negroes, Whites--
all mixed together.
Everyone likes each other
in our neighborhood.
Whites and coloreds--
we go to different schools--
to different churches,
drink from different water fountains.
But our section is different.
My world is right here
in Central Point.
That's what it's called.
of my universe.
My world. (p. 27-28)
(In this poem Richard hitches a ride from his black friend, Ray. The local sheriff pulls them over. Fall 1952)
Me, I'm white, but my daddy,
he drives a truck for P.E. Boyd Byrd--
maybe the richest roundest jolliest "colored" farmer in the section.
In other parts, a white man working for a colored man--
that would be unusual.
But that's how it is here in Central Point.
Sheriff don't like this one lousy bit.
White man puts hisself beneath a colored man?
Workin' for him?
Worse than being colored, right, Sheriff?
'Course I didn't say that.
Sheriff looked like he was chewin' on his teeth,
kept turnin' over that itty-bitty license,
trying to figure out what mean thing he could to us.
We wait quiet
while he walked back to his car.
To Sheriff Brooks there are only two races--
white and colored.
In all of Virginia, just two races--
white and colored.
We know Sheriff ain't done with us,
but he let us of for now. (p. 31-32)
(This poem touched me since Mildred reflects on the two of them being seen in public together. She alludes to how some folks have passed and left their community. This theme is echoed in Half-Truths. July, 1956)
Richard once said,
"It could be worse, Bean.
If you was the white one
and I was the colored one,
people saw us together?
They'd lynch me.
We can do this."
I'm not really dark--
'bout the color of a grocery sack--
and I have good hair,
but I surely
There are plenty of people
from our section,
who are mixed like I am--
and one day,
when they're grown,
they leave home
and never ever
And we know they
into white society--
where everyone know you,
where everyone truly
cares about you.
I feel sorry for them
and don't come
home. (p. 82-3)
(after Mildred is denied access to a dance. October, 1956)
The moment they said,
No, you can't go in,
I know he really saw--
what it is
to be colored.
His face folds up
He steps out of the car.
He's gone what feels like
in the dark.
I'm in the car whimpering.
He comes back.
Drives me home. (p. 93-94)
(This is after Mildred gets pregnant with their second child. May, 1958)
Ray said, You can't marry a colored girl. Not in Virginia.
"You're white, Man. Did you forget that?
I told him, "We'll do the marrying in D.C.
He said, "For godsakes, Man, live next door to her,
if you have to be big about it.
Look at Farmer.
In our section
white man named Farmer
set up his colored woman in a little house
and he lived next door.
They have a mess of kids.
Everyone knows, but no one says.
All his kids take her name and when they grow up, they
pass as white people.
Away from here.
Farmer didn't want to rock the boat.
Millie deserves better.
I called Ray a pig. I called him worse than that.
Ray said, You are dreamin'. You been rockin' Sheriff's
a long time--
pretending all y'all ain't no different,
everyone the same.
That ain't gonna slide in Caroline County. (p. 113-114)
(After their second child is born, October 1958)
I stand before Justice of the Peace
Edward Stehl III
in the Bowling Green courthouse.
I am told I acted
"unlawfully and feloniously"
by marrying a white man.
Our lawyer, Mr. Beazley,
advises me to plead
just like Richard did
at his hearing in July.
And then I go home
to my baby
and little Sidney.
You'd think that
us to be married,
what with a child and all.
But it's our beautiful brown baby
that is the problem.
This perfect baby is the result
of race mixing.
This child is the very reason
they don't want us married. (p. 147-148)
(After Mildred wrote to Bobby Kennedy and the ACLU, Mr. Cohen, a lawyer called them. September, 1963)
We went to the lawyer's little office--
and talk and talk and talk.
He said something like,
I think we can win, but it will be a long process.
More than a month? Why?
We just want to live as husband endwise in Virginia.
What is so difficult about that?
Mildred put her hand on my wrist.
Then he said,
If you were to go back to Virginia together--
that might be a good way
to get this back in the courts.
This guy is complete nuts.
Mildred grabbed hold of my hand
like she thought I'd get up and walk out. (p.188)
Nine years after Mildred and Richard were married, in the famous Loving vs. Virginia case, Chief Justice Warren and the eight associate justices ruled unanimously that marriage between members of different races was not unconstitutional, thus ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage.
Mildred and Richard went home.
|Illustration by Shadra Strickland|
Please see this interview with Powell that provides some of the backstory for this book; and an interview with Strickland with glimpses into her studio and this book.