Research of a Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case: Loving vs. Virginia

The following guest post is by author Patricia Hruby Powell.  Powell will be one of our featured speakers at the Middle Level Mosaic at the 2016 Annual Convention.

PatriciaHrubyPowellLoving vs. Virginia is an informational book or a “documentary novel.” The story is told in verse in the voices of Mildred Jeter (African American and Native American) and Richard Loving (White). The couple grew up together, fell in love, married in Washington, DC, came home to Virginia in 1958, and were arrested in bed. It’s hard to believe that less than 60 years ago, interracial marriage was illegal in half of the United States.

Research included my watching Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story repeatedly. I viewed news clips, studied Hope Ryden’s 1960s film footage of the Lovings, read newspaper and magazine articles contemporary to the times. I read extensively about the convoluted court case that led to the US Supreme Court. I searched for photos and quotes. But perhaps the most fun was interviewing the “players” of my story.

Sadly, both Richard and Mildred Loving are deceased—Mildred died in 2008, and Richard only nine years after the US Supreme Court decision of 1967 which ruled in their favor. But I did speak extensively to Mildred’s brothers, Lewis Jeter and Otha Jeter; Otha Jeter still lives in the neighborhood in Caroline County where they all grew up together. Their neighborhood—or section—was remarkably integrated. Blacks, Whites, and Native Americans worked together, partied together, and in some cases, fell in love. This took place in a state so segregated that state statistician Walter Plecker instated the “Racial Integrity Act” as a health bulletin (!) declaring that interracial marriage was illegal.

One of my favorite interviews was with Richard’s friend, Ray Green. He and five buddies stood around a pickup truck outside a rural convenience store with my husband and me and chatted about their friends, the Lovings. They told stories, laughed, and gave details that would be the foundation of scenes in my book.

Another great part of the research? Remembering how it felt to fall in love. I listened to music that I listened to in my 20s when I was falling in love regularly. My husband and I spoke about falling in love—reminding each other of our stories.

My husband, being a white Southern man, had special insight into Richard. Studying Richard in film clips and reading his words from previous interviews was essential in recreating his character.

From the clips, I know Mildred was soft spoken, a gentle mother to their three children, and altogether charming. The couple was clearly in love. They did not want to be the center of this important civil rights issue. They just wanted to live their quiet lives together—at home in Caroline County.

LovingVsVirginacoverPatricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle 2014) garnered Honors from the Boston Globe, The Horn Book, Robert F. Sibert, BolognaRagazzi, Coretta Scott King (for Christian Robinson’s illustrations), and a Parent’s Choice Gold, among others. Loving vs. Virginia (Chronicle 2017) is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Patricia is a former dancer and librarian living in Champaign, IL. Readers have a chance to receive one of  three free copies of her book, Loving V. Virginia, prior to its January 2017 release date by signing up to receive her blog

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

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