Just 45 years ago, 16 states deemed marriages between two people of different races illegal.
But in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the case of Richard Perry Loving, who was white, and his wife, Mildred Loving, of African American and Native American descent.
The case changed history - and was captured on film by LIFE photographer Grey Villet, whose black-and-white photographs are now set to go on display at the International Center of Photography.
Twenty images show the tenderness and family support enjoyed by Mildred and Richard and their three children, Peggy, Sidney and Donald.
The children, unaware of the struggles their parents face, are captured by Villet as blissfully happy as they play in the fields near their Virginia home or share secrets with their parents on the couch.
Their parents, caught sharing a kiss on their front porch, appear more worry-stricken.
And it is no wonder - eight years prior, the pair had married in the District of Columbia to evade the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which banned any white person marrying any non-white person.
But when they returned to Virginia, police stormed into their room in the middle of the night and they were arrested.
The pair were found guilty of miscegenation in 1959 and were each sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for 25 years if they left Virginia.
They moved back to the District of Columbia, where they began the long legal battle to erase their criminal records - and justify their relationship.
Following vocal support from the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches, the Lovings won the fight - with the Supreme Court branding Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional in 1967.
It wrote in its decision: ‘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.’ [Read more]
J. T. Zealy
Jack (driver), Guinea 1850
Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
In 1850, the Harvard professor Louis Agassiz, perhaps the most famous geologist and scientist in America, commissioned J. T. Zealy, a daguerreotypist in Columbia, South Carolina, to take a series of photographs of slaves from nearby plantations. The goal of the series was to provide evidence for the theory that Africans were not direct descendants of Adam and Eve but products of a separate, “second” creation. The doctrine of “separate creation” was intended to justify white racism and slavery. Zealy photographed African-born slaves whom he regarded as specimens or “types.” The portraits he sent to Agassiz stand today as perhaps the most haunting and painful images to emerge from the era of the daguerreotype. They show naked or partially clothed figures facing the camera head-on. They also reveal whip-marks, scars, and other disfigurations from slavery. What rage, pain, humiliation, or resistance the making of the daguerreotypes provoked among the sitters goes unrecorded. We are left instead with their stares, stoic and impassive, masking worlds of feeling that the viewer can only imagine.
—Angela L. Miller, et al., American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (2008)