“In the flush of love’s light, we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are, and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.”
— Maya Angelou
It is easy to look around the world, and find love in all its forms; from parent to child, from lover to lover, from friend to friend, and everything in between. It is even so commonplace that we sometimes forget that it is there. But for many throughout history, the simple and inalienable right to love wasn’t always so easy. Many of the joys we enjoy today are the products of long and hard-won battles—love included, and especially so. For many, love was an act of resistance.
Today, on Valentine’s Day, we’re going to explore the lives of couples with relationships so star-crossed and great that the odds could not shake them, relationships for which even history changed its course, thus proving that love always wins.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Although the newest on this list, there is no doubt that their union has had a profound effect on both history and pop culture. While not the first legitimized person of color to be recognized in British nobility, Meghan is the first to be publicly recognized in British royalty.
Upon their marriage, Harry and Meghan were granted the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex—a title of great symbolic importance. The last Duke of Sussex was the rebellious Prince Augustus Frederick, a staunch abolitionist who combatted the more conservative policies of the British government as early as the 18th century—slavery, chief among them.
The British monarchy has always had a complicated relationship with racial issues. It has been seen in Prince Philip’s many brushes with racism, having once asked an Aboriginal Australian if he were “still throwing spears,” and joking that British students would become “slitty-eyed” if they stayed in China. Further back in history, the Royals’ reception of the Queen Victoria’s relationship with her secretary, Abdul Karim, is another example.
But almost immediately upon being received into the Royal Family, their union has been lambasted constantly, not only from the press but from their own family. Princess Michael of Kent even wore racist jewelry to one of the Queen’s Christmas lunches, an event where Meghan was present. And the British press has often depicted her as ambitious and classless, often criticizing her for things Kate Middleton was praised for.
One can definitely understand the unease of the British aristocracy with Meghan’s status as a royal. She has expressed opinions on gender equality, against Donald Trump’s sexism and racism, and thrown her support for international charity organizations. Members of the British press were quick to nickname her “the most leftwing member of the royal family.”
Prince Harry’s response to the media frenzy surrounding his wife was unprecedented, given the Royal Family’s general policy to maintain privacy to the utmost. He and Meghan filed a lawsuit against various press agencies, speaking on issues of mental health and abuse in a manner unheard of in the British monarchy.
And their eventual exit from being senior members of the Royal Family has opened up the issue of racism, which many Britons of color have been quietly experiencing their whole lives. Though the events have still yet to unfold, there is no doubt that the British monarchy and press are now held to a higher standard, under which a flag of bigotry cannot fly.
Ruth Williams Khama and Seretse Khama
Ruth Williams, a London clerk, met Prince Seretse Khama of the Bamangwato people of Africa in 1947 while he was studying in London in preparation to succeed his father’s rule over Bechuanaland, a British protectorate at the time. They dated quietly for a year, suffering from the racism of the Londoners, before they decided to marry and have their first kiss.
Seretse and Ruth had trouble finding someone to officiate their wedding, as the British government maneuvered to block their marriage. The neighboring South Africa, then under apartheid rule, demanded the same of the British government. Closer to home, Ruth’s father ejected her from their household, and the acting chief of the Bamangwato, Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi Khama, attempted to undermine his claim to the succession and threatened to fight him to the death should he bring his English and white wife home.
At the time, the British government was deep in debt from World War II. They did not want to risk losing the Union of South Africa’s trade deal of gold and uranium with them, nor did they want South Africa to take more violent action against their protectorate. As such, the couple were exiled to London in 1951.
The decision sparked protests against British racism from various groups, who called for the resignation of Lord Salisbury, who was responsible for it. Six Bamangwato men were sent to see the couple and Lord Salisbury in echo of the deputation of three Batswana kgosis to Queen Victoria in 1895, but their pleas offered no success. Similar attempts of the British government to replace Chief Khama of the Bamangwato offered no success either, resulting in a political impasse.
At every turn, the couple was pressured to break up, threatened with permanent exile, blackmailed with the threat of racial war and conquest, but they never did. In 1956, Seretse Khama renounced his throne; he and Ruth were allowed to return to Bechuanaland, where they retired from politics for a short while before returning. Ruth and Seretse’s steadfast refusal to bend to pressure from Great Britain and South Africa earned him the respect of the people of Bechuanaland, who were clamoring intensely for national independence.
In 1961, after having been elected as secretary of the tribal council, Khama founded the Bechuanaland Democratic Party, which swept aside its socialist and pan-African rivals in the elections in the 1965 elections. As prime minister of Bechuanaland, he pushed for independence from Great Britain which was finally granted in 1961. That year, the country renamed Botswana and a constitution was written, which declared him the first president of the new nation.
Under his presidency and policies, Botswana came from being one of the poorest nations in the world to its fastest growing economy. Not only that, but he constantly fought against corruption and racism in Botswana, and aided in the negotiations that ended the Rhodesian civil war.
Ruth and Seretse are still lovingly remembered by the people of Botswana to this day, and are survived by their four children. Two of them have become prominent politicians in Botswana’s government, and their son, Ian Khama, was elected president in 2008.
Mildred and Richard Loving
Mildred Jeter was a woman of black, European, Cherokee and Rappahannock descent born in Virginia in 1939. While attending an all-black school in her native state, she met her future husband, Richard Loving, who was white. It didn’t take long for the couple to start dating, and long for them to fall in love. Mildred became pregnant when she was eighteen, and thus the couple decided to marry.
Even with Mildred and Richard living in a progressive part of Virginia where black people and white people coexisted freely with little racial tension (at the time), there was still much bigotry to be eliminated around them
Because of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (also known as the anti-miscegenation act), it was illegal for them to get married in their home state. As such, the young couple drove to Washington, D.C., and returned, forever united, as the Lovings. And on June 11, 1958, the couple were accosted in their bedroom in the early morning by Sheriff Garnett Brooks and two deputies, with a warrant for their arrest. Ignoring their pleas, the sheriff declared that their marriage certificate had no validity in Virginia, where it was also illegal to leave, get married, and return as an interracial couple.
The couple spent days in jail while Mildred was pregnant, and were eventually forced to plead guilty to violating the Racial Integrity Act. As part of their plea bargain, they were forced to leave Virginia, and were barred from returning together for 25 years. Despite the risk of imprisonment, the couple and their children made a clandestine return to their home, friends, and family.
By 1963, the couple could no longer abide by their status quo. Spurred by the blossoming civil rights movement, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who referred the couple’s case to the American Civil Liberties Union, who assigned the lawyers Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop to their case.
Cohen and Hirschkop attempted to have the original ruling reversed and the case vacated through the judge that oversaw their conviction, Judge Leon M. Bazile. The judge rejected their claim in 1965, citing that “…God created the races, white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
The Lovings and their lawyers tried again with the Virginia Supreme Court of appeals, which upheld the original ruling. Finally, they took it to the United Supreme Court, presided over by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who finally ruled in their favor, and that the Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act violated the US Constitution in various ways.
Since then, the ruling of the case, Loving v. Virginia, has been cited as precedent for the repealing and abolishing of other racist marriage laws in various other states, the last being in Alabama in as present as the year 2000. The case has also been cited as a precedent in the movement to legalize same-sex marriage in the USA. And June 12th has been declared as Loving Day, in honor of the brave Mildred and Richard, who let nothing get in the way of their right to love and live freely and happily.
Today is, perhaps, the day to remember that love is often a form of rebellion—that a choice to love is a choice to fight a status quo that rewards hatred and divisiveness. And that love, in all its forms, is both humankind’s most powerful weapon, and most important responsibility.