The eve of St Valentine's Day on a platform of the New York subway. There are couples kissing and others not, some luxuriating in their conquest and others ruminating the failure of the date. Below, on the rails, if you watch closely, you are likely to spot a rat. An invasion of them is in progress. People throw bits of food to them, as to pigeons or ducks. And the rats dissuade no one from travelling on the subway which is, well, ratty, but useful and fast. The platform is full of couples. You can pass the time guessing which ones are going to get it on later tonight, and which not. It is written in their faces.
Valentine was a third-century martyr. It is said that the celebration of his feast day in the modern sense was started as a sales gimmick by Macy's department store. Be that as it may, the HBO channel, instead of recounting the life and miracles of Valentine, decided to retell the story of a modern miracle: the Supreme Court's recognition of interracial marriages in the year 1967.
The persons concerned were Mildred and Richard Loving, a couple in a small town in Virginia who committed the crime of getting married in Washington DC to circumvent the law of a state where mixed-race marriage was forbidden. Richard was white, Mildred black with some Cherokee blood. They had been in love since their early teens.
After the marriage they came back to Virginia; the police showed up next morning and took them to jail. When they got out they moved to Washington, but Mildred missed the small town and her family. Timid, pretty, not highly educated but sensitive and articulate, she wrote a letter appealing to the courts.
Her desire? To live in peace in her own town with her husband and her children. The litigation dragged on for 17 years. Two lawyers took a personal interest in the case. They had to get the Supreme Court to invalidate the discriminatory laws of a state. They did not achieve this until the eve of the 1970s, a date so recent that it gives you a chill to think about it.
The Loving story is well documented, because a photographer visited them in Washington and Virginia to portray a love so great that it towers above the feeble loves that cannot overcome some little difficulty. Around the lovers some children, blond with Indian features or dark with blue eyes, smile untouched by their parents' anxiety.
The photos, in black and white, seem the real version of a Hopper painting, one of those canvases where he painted a meditative woman leaning on the post of a porch. Mildred and Richard were good-looking, healthy country people, not long on education, facing the traps of the law and the profound racism of the South; but it would be hard for two stars of cinema, in an art which embellishes whatever it touches, to reproduce or exceed the natural beauty possessed by these two lovers.
Their case changed the stories of many future couples. Mildred had heard of Martin Luther King, but never thought of herself as belonging to an anti-segregation movement. However, she showed how much can be done by one person's will, or, better said, by the united will of two.
Unfortunately, racism is still a heritage which goes on suppurating venom, and which the law alone cannot palliate. Interracial marriages are on the rise in the United States, and this receives a lot of congratulatory tea and sympathy in the press, but I would venture to say that they are more frequent and less traumatic when they take place between Asians and Whites, or between integrated Hispanics and Whites.
That of Mildred and Richard was a love that had to be defended every day of the week. As difficult as that.