by Kate Branum
In the late 1960s, Richard and Mildred Loving found themselves amid difficult and unjust circumstances. Richard, a white man, and Mildred, a woman of Native American and African American descent, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia because their interracial marriage violated the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The couple made history in June of 1967 when their case, Loving v. Virginia, was presented to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court struck down all racial restrictions on marriage in the United States.
Loving Day is now celebrated in cities throughout the country each year to commemorate the pioneering couple. This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia court case, and Grand Rapids theater company, Ebony Road Players, has planned a celebration to remember.
Ebony Road Players is a theater troupe founded 2014 in part by Edye Evans Hyde after the group recognized a need for black theater in the Grand Rapids community.
“We started off just occasionally doing shows, either black playwrights or black-themed shows, and then it turned into a little bit more,” Evans Hyde said. “We became this voice for underrepresented voices and did shows based on stories.”
Ebony Road Players has commemorated Loving Day for the past two years, and this year they have expanded the celebration into a three-day event.
“I wanted to do the Loving Day celebration because I thought it was something that would bring the community together as a whole, to highlight that court case and also encourage inclusiveness,” Evans Hyde said.
The weekend of festivities kicks on Friday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. with a multi-media concert at the Ladies Literary Club (61 Sheldon SE). At the event, artists of various trades, including music, dance, theater, film and spoken word, will share their personal stories of identity, race, love and expression.
“People who are in multiracial relationships or are multi-racial themselves, don’t always have a place where they can feel comfortable, and this is a place that they can be themselves,” Evans Hyde emphasized.
The party continues Saturday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a community arts festival at First Park Congregational Church (10 E Park Pl). This free event welcomes all members of the community to gather for food, vendors, workshops, children’s activities and live music. Inside the church, there will be student film screenings showcasing relevant topics.
The celebration concludes on Sunday, June 11 at 11:45 a.m. at First Park Congregational Church with a free showing of the original HBO documentary story of the Lovings. Audience members will have an opportunity to take part in a curated group discussion following the film.
“I think the biggest thing is to highlight the history of (the Lovings), and to understand how history affects us now,” Evans Hyde said. “I’m hoping that people will use this opportunity to come together, enjoy the art and enjoy themselves.”
What: Loving Day Celebration
When: Friday, June 9 at 7:30 a.m., Saturday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, June 11 at 11:45.
Where: Friday, June 9 at the Ladies Literary Club (61 Sheldon SE, Grand Rapids), Saturday, June 10 and Sunday, June 11 at First Park Congregational Church (10 East Park Pl NE, Grand Rapids).
Cost: Friday, June 9 multi-media concert beginning at $10 per person.