Rep. Andrew King (D-MO) proposes a U.S. constitutional amendment banning all marriage between whites and people of color in every state throughout the country. It will be the first of three such attempts.
In Pace v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules that state-level bans on interracial marriage do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling will hold for more than 80 years.
The plaintiffs, Tony Pace and Mary Cox, were arrested under Alabama’s Section 4189, which read:
“[I]f any white person and any negro, or the descendant of any negro to the third generation, inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation was a white person, intermarry or live in adultery or fornication with each other, each of them must, on conviction, be imprisoned in the penitentiary or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not less than two nor more than seven years.”
They challenged the conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Stephen Johnson Field wrote for the Court:
“The counsel is undoubtedly correct in his view of the purpose of the clause of the amendment in question, that it was to prevent hostile and discriminating state legislation against any person or class of persons. Equality of protection under the laws implies not only accessibility by each one, whatever his race, on the same terms with others to the courts of the country for the security of his person and property, but that in the administration of criminal justice he shall not be subjected, for the same offense, to any greater or different punishment …
“The defect in the argument of counsel consists in his assumption that any discrimination is made by the laws of Alabama in the punishment provided for the offense for which the plaintiff in error was indicted when committed by a person of the African race and when committed by a white person … Section 4189 applies the same punishment to both offenders, the white and the black.
Indeed, the offense against which this latter section is aimed cannot be committed without involving the persons of both races in the same punishment. Whatever discrimination is made in the punishment prescribed in the two sections is directed against the offense designated and not against the person of any particular color or race. The punishment of each offending person, whether white or black, is the same.”
Rep. Seaborn Roddenbery (D-GA) makes a second attempt to revise the U.S. Constitution in order to ban interracial marriage in all 50 states.
Roddenbery’s proposed amendment read as follows:
“That intermarriage between negroes or persons of color and Caucasians or any other character of persons within the United States or any territory under their jurisdiction, is forever prohibited; and the term ‘negro or person of color,’ as here employed, shall be held to mean any and all persons of African descent or having any trace of African or negro blood.”
Later theories of physical anthropology will suggest that every human being has some African ancestry, which could have rendered this amendment unenforceable had it passed. In any case, it didn’t pass.
Sen. Coleman Blease (D-SC), a Ku Klux Klan supporter who had previously served as South Carolina’s governor, makes a third and final serious attempt to revise the U.S. Constitution in order to ban interracial marriage in every state. Like its predecessors, it fails.
In McLaughlin v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules that laws banning interracial sex violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
McLaughlin struck down Florida Statute 798.05, which read:
“Any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred dollars.”
While the ruling did not directly address laws banning interracial marriage, it laid down the groundwork for a ruling that definitively did.
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturns Pace v. Alabama (1883), ruling in Loving v. Virginia that state bans on interracial marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the Court:
“There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy …
“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men … 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 discriminations. 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.”
From this point on, interracial marriage is legal throughout the United States.