She was a teenager visiting cousins in Los Angeles. They went to a local club where an impromptu singalong began. On a dare she got up on stage to sing. Soon she was the only one singing. The club owner offered her $25 to stay on stage. She needed the money to get home so she continued to perform.
This was the beginning of what would become a legendary career for Joyce Bryant. She became a top nightclub performer, famous for her voice and for her look.
But she also used her position to fight for civil rights, becoming the first African American to perform in many places around the U.S.
Joyce tired of the nightclub scene by her late 20s and so she walked away from her lucrative career. Eventually though she came back. But this time under her own rules as a classical vocalist. And just like her previous music career, she found success.
“Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia, That the State…prepare a form whereon the racial composition of any individual, as Caucasian, Negro, Mongolian, American Indian, Asiatic Indian, Malay…may be certified by such individual…
“It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white…“
So declared Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which forbade marriage between interracial couples. Anti-interracial marriage laws were nothing new in Virginia, the state had some form of them in effect since the time of slavery (1600s). But this particular act was a direct consequence of the American eugenics movement of the early 1900s, which hoped to “improve the inborn qualities of a race” by way of immigration restrictions, anti-interracial marriage laws, forced sterilization, and even euthanasia programs to remove “defective genetic attributes” from the reproductive pool. It was this Racial Integrity Act of 1924 that Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple from Virginia, brought down with their famous court case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and with it helped put an end to state sponsored implementation of white supremacy.
Mildred Jeter, a skinny girl of African American and Native American descent, was born in 1939, six years after Richard Loving, who was of English and Irish ancestry. They both lived in Caroline County, Virginia, a place much friendlier towards racial mixing than other Southern communities of the time.
Mildred met Richard when she was eleven and he seventeen. She went to an all-black school, and he, having left his all-white high school after only a year, made a living as a construction worker. What started as a friendship eventually blossomed into love, and after Mildred became pregnant at age eighteen, they decided to get married.
Marrying in their home state of Virginia was impossible, so Mildred and Richard drove 90 miles north to Washington D.C. where interracial marriage was legal. Upon returning home the Lovings lived in peace for just a few weeks until in the middle of the night their house was raided by the local sheriff along with two deputies acting on a tip. The sheriff barged into the Loving’s bedroom at 2AM demanding to know of Richard,
“Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”
“I am his wife,” Mildred answered.
Their marriage certificate hung on the wall.
“That’s no good here,” the sheriff proclaimed.
The Lovings were taken to jail. Richard was allowed to post bail the following day, but Mildred, despite being pregnant, was held longer. The Lovings were charged with violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a felony crime carrying a one to five year jail term. During the hearing the presiding judge, Judge Leon Bazile, stated,
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
The Lovings pled guilty to breaking Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law and were given the minimum one year sentence. With the ruling came the stipulation that their sentence would be suspended if they left Virginia and did not return together for twenty five years. The Lovings agreed. They moved to Washington D.C., had three children, and lived there for five years, until the isolation from family and friends, as well as financial hardship, made them long to return to Virginia.
The year was 1963, and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. Mildred, inspired by the movement, got in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union who agreed to take on the Lovings’ case and help them return home. There was only one problem, since the Lovings had pled guilty to breaking Virginia law, they had no right to appeal the original ruling. So they contacted Judge Leon Bazile and asked him to void his verdict on the basis that Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. He declined. The Lovings appealed, and the case went to Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals, but that court upheld Judge Bazile’s decision, stating that Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law didn’t in fact violate the Fourteenth Amendment because both whites and non-whites were punished equally for the crime of interracial marriage.
But the Lovings didn’t give up. They appealed the Virginia court’s decision to the United States Supreme Court. The court, at the time headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren who also presided over Brown v. Board of Education, examined the case and overturned Virginia court’s decision.
“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’”, Warren stated, “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…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.”
Interracial marriage was declared legal in Virginia and in the US as a whole. The Lovings, now legally married, were finally able to live in peace at home in Virginia.
Of Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law in general, Justice Potter Stewart and Justice William O. Douglas, two of the associate Justices who were part of the Supreme Court’s ruling, stated,
“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.”
Loving v. Virginia became one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most important cases. The Lovings were hailed as heroes by their community and the country at large.
But when asked about their accomplishments in a Life magazine interview, Richard Loving humbly said,
“We have thought about other people, but we are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”
“The Loving Family” sources:
“Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia, That the State…prepare a form whereon the racial composition of any individual, as Caucasian, Negro, Mongolian, American Indian, Asiatic Indian, Malay…may be certified by such individual…” – Racial Integrity Act of 1924 – Wikisource
“improve the inborn qualities of a race”: EUGENICS: ITS DEFINITION, SCOPE, AND AIMS. By Francis Galton. THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY, Volume X; July, 1904; Number 1.
Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws 17th century: “‘Loving’ and the History of Anti-Miscegenation Laws in Virginia and Washington.” By Candice Frederick. New York Public Library.
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” — Judge Leon Bazile in Caroline County Court, 1958 – “Judge Leon M. Bazile, Indictment for Felony,” Library of Virginia, accessed October 6, 2022, https://lva.omeka.net/items/show/54.
“We have thought about other people,” Mr. Loving said in an interview with Life magazine in 1966, “but we are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/06/us/06loving.html
Loving family Washington D.C. marriage certificate – National Archives, NAID: 17412479
Loving v Virginia, 1967 Ruling: “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.” – Richard Perry LOVING et ux., Appellants, v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA. Legal Information Institute, Cornell University.
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It’s the 1912 summer Olympics in Stockholm. Jim Thorpe, a Native American from Oklahoma, represents the U.S. in four track and field events, the most important of which is the decathlon. The decathlon, a set of ten events made up of sprints, jumps, throws, hurdles, vaults, and a distance run, determines the greatest athlete in the world.
Sport has always been an important part of Jim’s life. He swam and rode horses by age three. And in his teen years, Jim was the star football player of his small college for Native Americans. He led them to a National Championship twice.
“I was never content unless I was trying my skill in some game against my fellow playmates or testing my endurance and wits against some member of the animal kingdom,” he said.
His talent for sport extended well beyond the football field. He competed in more than twenty sports, including figure skating, lacrosse, handball, tennis, and boxing. He even won an intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. This diversity made the decathlon a perfect event for him.
The decathlon started well for Jim. He developed a nice lead after the first day. Then on the morning of day two, as Jim prepped for competition, he noticed that his track shoes were missing. To this day, the shoes are presumed to have been stolen.
Getting a pair of track shoes wasn’t easy. There wasn’t a store one could walk into and purchase shoes. Track shoes were custom made. So he and his track coach went looking for a discarded pair. His coach found a right shoe and a left one. They were different styles, different sizes, but this was the best option given time constraints. One shoe fit fine, the other was too big. So Jim put on two pairs of socks to fit into the big shoe.
Jim came in first place wearing these track shoes. And he didn’t just win; he dominated, winning by a margin of about 700 points. His margin of victory has only been surpassed one time to date.
As the legend goes, upon receiving his gold medal from King Gustav of Sweden, the King said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Jim, humble as always, reportedly replied, “Thanks, King.”
Jim returned home to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York. He was a hero and officially the greatest athlete in the world.
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Chuck Taylor sneakers have been a staple of fashion for years. But how did they become popular?
You can say the historical record started in 1908 when 47 year old Marquis Mills Converse, a well groomed and lifelong respected manager started his own company, Converse Shoes. They made rubber soled shoes for winter first. Then in 1915 sneakers for tennis players, and in 1917 the company introduced the All-Star basketball shoe.
During this time, a basketball player at Columbus High in Indiana by the name of Chuck Taylor fell in love with the All-Star basketball shoe. Chuck was a lanky kid with a prominent nose and insightful eyes. By most accounts he was a good basketball player at best. But he was likable and he understood the footwear needs of basketball players. He was also a gifted salesman who knew how to pitch himself and his ideas. In 1921 Converse hired Chuck Taylor after he arrived unannouced at their Chicago office.
With his drive and passion, Converse introduced the Chuck Taylor sneaker. Soon after, it was the shoe to wear for basketball players. And in 1936 the sneakers became the official shoe for the US basketball team in the Olympics.
Then “during WWII, Taylor became a fitness consultant for the US military. GIs were soon doing calisthenics while wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers that had become the official sneaker of the US Armed Forces (Wikipedia).”
In the 1950’s, sneakers extended beyond sportswear and became the norm for daily wear. Much of this was the result of James Dean and his love for the Jack Purcell’s, a sneaker designed by a former world badminton champion (and which was later acquired by Converse). The Jack Purcell sneakers were similar to Chuck Taylor’s, but appealed to a different segment of society. These sneakers were prominent in the rebellious rock culture of the time, broadening the overall appeal of sneakers.
Stories such as the rise of sneakers as a cultural norm remind me of the Harriet Tubman quote, “All dreams begin with a dreamer.” Chuck Taylor wasn’t the only reason sneakers became popular, but he was certainly the catalyst to usher in the change. And as a result, more than 600 million pairs of Chuck Taylor’s have been sold.
“Chuck Taylor and the rise of Converse” sources:
Chuck Taylor advertisement published in American Legion Weekly magazine, vol. 2, no. 1 (Jan. 2, 1920), pg. 29 – Wikimedia Commons
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