The words “civil rights movement” typically call to mind horrific images of children being blasted with high-pressure water hoses as they protested Jim Crow laws in the streets of Birmingham. And one can’t talk about this movement of the 1950s and 1960s without remembering the bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the bus boycotts of Montgomery or the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which began the desegregation of schools.
But there is another court decision that typically doesn’t receive as much attention in history classrooms or mainstream media. Loving v. Virginia, decided on June 12, 1967, declared that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute was unconstitutional and ended all race-based legal restriction of marriage in the United States.
The significance of this court decision, however, is certainly not lost on Jason and Williesha Morris, an interracial couple living in the Birmingham area.
“It’s a very, very important part of our history; it changed everything,” Williesha said. Because without that case she and Jason may not have been able to marry last October.
Williesha is determined to raise awareness of this case and its importance and plans to start by hosting a Loving Day event this weekend in Birmingham. Loving Day celebrations are held worldwide to commemorate the anniversary of the Loving decision every year on or around June 12.
To celebrate Loving Day 2013, Williesha plans to host a screening of The Loving Story, a documentary that tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple at the center of 1967 case. The documentary features interviews with the Lovings and with lawyers involved in the case.
This free screening will be held Saturday, June 8 at 2 p.m. at the Desert Island Supply Company (better known as DISCO), located at 5500 First Ave. North in Birmingham. Williesha Morris plans to open the event discussing the history of bans on interracial marriage.
“And I’d like people to share their love story because that’s what Loving Day is about,” she said.
Jason and Williesha first met at the “geektastic Atlanta convention” known as Dragon*Con in 2009 and saw each other again at the convention in 2010 and 2011. At Dragon*Con 2011 they flirted over pizza and board games and eventually Williesha stuffed her contact information in Jason’s left jeans pocket. A few weeks later they started chatting on Facebook and sending each other “essay-long text messages.”
They discovered that they not only shared a love for board, video, and computer games, but also both valued spending quality time with family and friends and both enjoyed the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Willesha said she also appreciated Jason’s ambition and even his eclectic book collection.
The two had so much in common and race simply didn’t matter.
“Most of my life, if not all of it, I’ve really never seen race as an issue,” Jason said. “I don’t really see race as something I consider most of the time.”
Jason moved around a lot during his childhood because his father was in the military, but he spent many of his formative years in Tuscaloosa. When Jason dated a black girl in high school his parents were concerned, but not because of any racial prejudices of their own.
“It was a little bit more of an issue for my parents back then because they knew how Alabama was,” he said.
While growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, Williesha attended predominantly white schools and most of her friends, including the boys she dated, were white. Her parents never had an issue with this, but she said she was often ridiculed by other black students because she spent so much time with white students.
Williesha admits that when she moved to Birmingham in May of 2012 to be closer to Jason, she worried how residents would react to their relationship.
The couple said they do receive a fair share of stares and curious glances when they’re out in public, but they’ve never been victims of blatant bigotry in Birmingham despite the city’s dark past regarding race relations.
Once at a grocery store a woman approached them and asked Jason, “Do you work here or are y’all lovers?”
And some folks in Birmingham have gone out of their way to be accepting. Once at a restaurant, the manager came to their table to say “I just want you guys to know that y’all are always welcome here.”
Williesha and Jason laugh about these incidents now and say they are rare.
“I love it here,” Williesha said of Birmingham. “It’s much more modern and forward than I thought it would be.”
Williesha hopes that even those who aren’t in interracial relationships will attend Saturday’s event.
“I just want people who accept diversity and appreciate diversity to be there,” she said.
“For me it’s the history,” Jason said. “It’s important for people to understand where we came from because otherwise there’s a small chance we’ll end up repeating it.”
And if there’s a city in which to teach the history of Loving Day, Jason said, it’s Birmingham, which he described as “civil rights capital.”
For Williesha, Saturday’s Loving Day event is just the beginning of what she wants to do in Birmingham to celebrate diversity.
“I want to make this a huge annual event,” she said.
Williesha also wants to start a social group for local interracial couples.
“Even though we don’t want to make a scene about it I feel like there needs to be something,” she said. “People may need actual support.”