This black and white photo was taken at a protest against racism in Jena, Louisiana on July 14, 2008. (Photo/Simon B via Flickr)
More than 46 years after interracial marriage bans were abolished, mixed-race relationships have reached an all time high in the U.S. The Los Angeles Times reports that last year, 9 percent of unmarried couples living together came from different races, compared with about 4 percent of married couples. That may not sound like a lot but U.S. Census Bureau data shows that interracial couples were more than twice as common in 2012 than in 2000.
Interracial couples may be becoming much more common in the U.S., but in many communities Jim Crow-era discrimination continues to follow families decades after state anti-miscegenation laws were declared unconstitutional.
A 2012 poll of likely Republican voters surveyed in Mississippi found that 29 percent believe interracial marriage should be illegal. Similarly, 21 percent of likely GOP voters polled in Alabama believe that interracial marriage should be illegal.
Loving v. Virginia — present
Although interracial relationships have been a reality since the beginnings of the U.S., many states maintained laws expressly banning the marriage between people of different races.
The landmark case that helped to change laws across the country involved Mildred Delores Loving, a woman of African-American and Native American descent who was in a relationship with Richard Perry Loving, a White man. When Mildred became pregnant, the couple traveled to Washington D.C. where they were legally married in June 1958, evading the state of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 that made interracial marriage and interracial sexual relations criminal acts.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared the charges against the couple unconstitutional in the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision in June 1967 that paved the way for a complete abolition of state anti-miscegenation laws across the U.S.
“Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” 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, 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,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren in the unanimous decision.
That was in 1967, during the heyday of the Civil Rights era. The laws may have changed and 46 years have passed, but in some communities, the experience of Mildred and Richard Loving remains a day-to-day reality.
The Colomb family
In the quiet town of Church Point, Louisiana, population 4,700, the Colomb family has faced decades of discrimination from the police, the Klu Klux Klan and White neighbors.
The Huffington Post reports that the harassment began in the early 1990s when the Colomb sons began dating White women, including the daughter of a local deputy. The Colombs and their White girlfriends report regularly getting pulled over and questioned. Things came to a head in 2001 when the family was framed for a massive drug conspiracy that turned out to be bogus.
The National Registry of Exonerations reports that the family home was raided by police in 2001 who confiscated 72 grams of cocaine and a gun, both belonging to the soon-to-be husband of a Colomb’s daughter, Timothy Price.
It should have been an open and shut case, but federal authorities stepped in, claiming they had evidence the Colomb family had bought $15 million in drugs with a street value of more than $70 million. This all was alleged to have occurred while the family lived on paltry disability payments from James Colomb, who had been injured while working on an oil rig years earlier.
From the beginning, there were holes in the prosecution’s story. According to authorities, an undercover informant wearing a wire had purchased cocaine the from Colombs, although no recording was ever produced during the trial. The prosecution also produced 15 informants who said that they frequently purchased narcotics from the family.
Based on the testimony against Edward Colomb and Danny Davis, they would have been purchasing about $500,000 worth of wholesale crack cocaine each month in 1994 while both were still in high school. Both worked full-time jobs right out of high school and displayed no other signs that linked them to a massive drug ring.
The defendants were convicted of conspiracy and other drug charges in 2006, but the defense filed a successful appeal shortly after the trial that overturned the charges just five months later, when evidence showed that testimony from four witnesses was totally fabricated.
“We didn’t know anything about how all of this worked,” said Ann Colomb in a 2008 statement to Reason.com “We’d never been in a court before. I didn’t know the first thing about drugs or the law.”
Residents say that Church Point remains a segregated town. In 1994, fighting broke out in the stands of a Church Point High School football game when Margeaux Coleman was announced as the school’s first black homecoming queen.
At the time, Coleman was dating Randy Colomb, Ann’s fourth son. Months later, former Ku Klux Klan leader and White supremacist David Duke took part in the town’s White Mardi Gras parade. Residents of any race are allowed to participate in the parade, but in practice there have always been two separate parades, one for Black residents and one for Whites.
Many African-American Church Point residents claim that town officials had invited Duke in direct response to the homecoming scandal. The Colombs say that the threats and intimidation have continued steadily since that time.
“People don’t know what it was like — what we went through,” Ann Colomb says. “You don’t know what it’s like to get a phone call in the middle of the night from somebody, saying if my boy Edward don’t stop dating white girls, I’m going to find him hanging from a tree.”
Reporter Radley Balko writes that Brandy Hanks, a White woman who dated Danny Davis, was frequently pulled over and questioned about her relationship. She once found a note from the KKK on the windshield of her car with threats against interracial dating.
The Colomb family saga may be one of the more extreme cases of ongoing racism in Southern communities, but it is by no means the only one stemming from interracial relationships.
More recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2011 that a neo-Nazi skinhead plead guilty to firebombing the home of an interracial couple in Arkansas.
Jason Walter Barnwell, described as the leader of a “combat division” of a neo-Nazi group, was arrested by the FBI and indicted by a grand jury for the January 2011 firebombing in Hardy, Ark.
The couple, a Black man and a White woman, safely fled their burning home after awakening to the sound of breaking glass when burning Molotov cocktails were thrown through their living room window.
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