Mildred and Richard Loving were a mixed-race couple from Virginia who were arrested by local law enforcement in July 1958 for violating the then state’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited White-Black marriages. To add insult to injury they were told that they had to leave the state for a minimum of nine years in order to avoid prosecution and imprisonment. For the next several years they would file a number of legal appeals to combat such an injustice. In 1967, their case went to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices ruled in favor of the Lovings. While the Lovings were certainly not the only interracial couple pre mid 1960s that existed, they have become among the most symbolic due to their tenacity and determination to challenge and reign victorious against such bigoted attitudes of time period.
Now almost 50 years later, attitudes toward interracial marriage, while still frowned upon in certain circles, have transformed dramatically. According to a Gallup poll conducted between June 13 and July 5 of last year that surveyed 4,373 Americans—including 1,010 non-Hispanic Blacks—public support for interracial marriage has grown steadily with each successive year. While the poll is not entirely scientific, it is probably a fairly accurate barometer of contemporary attitudes toward the issue.
The poll revealed that Black Americans approved of Black―White marriage at a rate of 96 percent, which is almost entirely universal. The percentage for Whites, while not as high, was still overwhelmingly supportive at 84 percent. The study made it clear that Black approval of such unions has always been higher, but the gap between the races has closed dramatically. In 1958 just 4 percent of White Americans ratified their support for interracial marriage. Today, 11 percent of all Americans polled expressed their disapproval.
Not surprisingly, support for interracial marriage is much higher among younger people under 30 and less idealistic among people over 65 years old. The poll showed the following results: overall, national adults (87 percent approval rate); 18- to 29-year-olds (96 percent); 30- to 49-year-olds (93 percent); 50- to 64-year-olds (84 percent); 65 years and older (70 percent).
Younger Americans have grown up in an environment where they have been immersed with multicultural images from sports, to television, to music, to gender to literature. They have also witnessed a nation with a tormented racial history elect a biracial man as president before many of them reached their 30th birthdays! Moreover, many people of this age demographic are biracial and, in some cases, or multi racial and are the product of mixed marriages themselves. Thus, it only seems natural to harbor such a supportive view on such an issue.
On the contrary, older Americans inhabited an America that was rigidly segregated by race, class and, in a number of cases, religion. Residential segregation (while still problematic today in a number of places) was the norm and, in fact, was legal and the law in many cities and towns. Many of these individuals grew up with the notion that segregation was normal, justifiable and the appropriate way for Americans to live their lives. Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever was a prevalent sentiment. Admittedly, a number of people in this age demographic have evolved in their views over time.
Interestingly, support for interracial marriage differed slightly by geographic region as well. Again, it was not all that much of a surprise (at least not to me) that the South (83 percent) was the most resistant given its long history of embracing segregation. The East and Midwest had identical percentages of acceptance (86 percent) while the West (93 percent) had the highest level of support.
Perhaps such results dispel the image of the northeast of supposedly being more racially progressive than the supposedly more moderate/conservative midwest and largely conservative western section of the nation. It is also important to note that, over the past 25 years, many younger people have moved to large western cities such as Denver, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Seattle, Portland, etc., as well as other more entrepreneurial and adventurous-minded men and women of all ethnic groups. People with such attitudes often tend to be more socially flexible in their social habits and values. This includes dating and marriage.
While U.S. Census data indicate that interracial marriage is still relatively rare, from 167,000 in 1980 to 558,000 in 2010, what can be inferred from these findings is that such results are a revelatory indicator of the general transformative attitudes of Americans from all walks of life on a number of issues in regards to racial maters, including marriage across the color line.