By Bonny Ibhawoh,
It was Rev. Martin Luther King who stated: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” There can be no truer statement.
Very often, the positions we take as individuals and society are shaped by today’s realities and exigencies. Our decisions are concerned with the here and now. We are less concerned about the verdict of history. We rarely ask: How will future generations judge today’s expedient decisions? Will our decisions stand the “moral test of time?”
The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is an example of why, as a society, we must consider the verdict of history in the decisions we make today.
Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, were arrested in their bedroom a few days after their marriage in 1958 for violating Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act,” a state law banning marriages between white and non-white persons. At the time, the couple did not know that they were breaking any law. When the group of arresting police officers invaded their bedroom, the couple showed them their marriage certificate from another state, hoping that it would be a defence. It became the evidence the police needed for a criminal charge.
Richard and Mildred Loving were sentenced to one year in prison and banished from the state of Virginia for 25 years. Their legal appeal against this verdict ultimately reached the US Supreme Court which declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional. The landmark case of Loving v. Virginia marked a turning point in the civil rights movement in the United States. This was not just a legal verdict, it was a moral verdict. Fifty years later, the verdict of history is also clear. The authorities in Virginia were on the wrong side of history.
The positions that we take today on social and political issues will also be judged by future generations. Knowing this, such positions should be informed not only by the contingencies and exigencies of today but also by the key question: What will the verdict of history be? We cannot always be sure of the answer, but we must never cease to ask this question.