Grey Villet

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The love story that changed history: Fascinating photographs of interracial marriage at a time when it was banned in 16 states

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

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Michael Shannon has appeared in all 5 of Jeff Nichols’ films and “Loving” is no exception. Here he appears as Grey Villet, the  South African photographer whose beautifully natural photos of the Lovings were published in a 1966 LIFE magazine article entitled “The Crime of Being Married” which showed the world the strength and sincerity of the Lovings’ devotion to each other and their children. As always, Shannon makes an impression. One reviewer wrote that “Michael Shannon…is a small cameo character who feels so well-drawn it’s like he has a whole movie to himself.” Shown above is one of Villet’s photos of the Lovings juxtaposed with Joel Edgerton’s and Ruth Negga's recreaction of the moment in the film. 

Commenting on the film, Shannon said, “What it really does is it makes the whole notion [of prosecuting this couple] seem preposterous. Why would anyone in their right mind not want these two people to be together?”

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Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas use to provide free flights from L.A. to Vegas, cocktail in every hand and fashion models walking the aisles.

For $27.50, you would get a deluxe room, bottle of champagne and $5 in chips for the casino. The flights were popular. More visitors were arriving at McCarran terminal by the Hacienda’s fleet of 30 planes than all the commercial airlines combined. This led to a dispute with the Civil Aeronautics Board, which officially stopped the flights in 1962. 

Photos by Grey Villet for Life, 1957.