1967 - An Important Year for Interracial Marriage

As I noted in an earlier blog, the year 1967 marked an important milestone in interracial marriage history. In June 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia established the right of all Americans to marry whom they wished and invalidated existing state laws and statutes prohibiting interracial marriage. The plaintiffs in the case were an interracial couple, Mildred (African American) and Richard Loving (Caucasian), who had to travel from their home state of Virginia in June 1958 (where interracial marriage was illegal) to Washington, D.C. in order to marry. When the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated any prohibitions against interracial marriage in 1967, there was a rise in the number of these marriages in the U.S., and 'Loving Day' is celebrated on June 12th. The Lovings were married until 1975 when Richard was tragically killed in a car accident. During their marriage, they had three children and Mildred died in 2008 from pneumonia.

Among the more prominent of interracial couples to marry after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Loving case was the daughter of then U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. The September 23, 1967 cover of Time magazine shows a photo of the couple, Peggy Rusk and Guy Smith, leaving the Stanford University Memorial Church after their September 21st wedding ceremony. The eighteen year old bride was escorted down the aisle by her father to marry her 22 year old black groom, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force reserves. Secretary Rusk later stated that he was very pleased with the marriage.

Prior to the marriage and recognizing the potential political liability to then President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary Rusk offered to resign his position. However, President Johnson refused to accept Rusk's resignation and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, later congratulated the couple on their marriage and wished them well as reported in a New York Times newspaper article. Peggy Rusk and Guy Smith were married for forty-four years until his death in February 2012 at age 67. The marriage produced one daughter, Samantha, and two grandchildren.

In May 2014, during an interview about her father, Peggy Rusk Smith recalled the national headlines and the Time magazine cover when she married. She was shocked at the attention the marriage caused as "We weren't trying to make any kind of statement. It has really nothing to do with our relationship. The fact that everyone else was making a big deal about it was their issue." (GPB Media, May 29, 2014)

Finally, in December 1967, Hollywood decided to weigh in on interracial marriage with the release of the movie, Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner. Starring Sydney Poitier and Katherine Houghton, the movie depicts the response of both sets of parents when their children decide to marry outside of the race. The movie enjoyed box office success across the country, including in the South.

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