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Friday, February 17, 2017

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2017. $26.99 ages 12 and up

"I startle,
Richard comes
out of the woods.
Richard is the owl,
and now he's
alongside me.

We're not laughing -
just breathing together."

This is such a special book, and so beautifully written. It tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving and the long journey they were forced to take in order to remain married and to live together.

Mildred and Richard both have a voice in telling their story. It begins in 1952 where friends and neighbors get together on Saturdays to eat, dance, play games and enjoy each other's company. Richard is one of the 'big boys' - all friends of Millie's big brothers.

Mildred enjoys these gatherings:

"If I stop and watch
I see young and old -
Indians, Negroes, Whites -
all mixed together.

Everyone likes each other
in our neighborhood.
Everyone dancing

It isn't until 1955 that the two begin dating, and also to feel the hatred and discrimination faced by a biracial couple. Secrecy allows them to date and spend time together. Because there is no anti-miscegenation law in Washington, D.C., they are married there. For the next ten years and through the birth of their three children, they are in and out of jail because they love each other and want to be together. The cruelty they face from a hateful sheriff and so many others allows readers to see up close and personal how hatred and discrimination can rear its ugly head. They are forced to live far away from their families, residing in D.C. where they are safe, while everyone they love lives in Virginia. Richard's job there keeps him away from Mildred and his children for lengthy periods of time.

Richard loves Mildred:

"She's standing at the well
holding a bunch of greens
like they was a bouquet of wedding flowers
carrying my child
smiling at me
that deep warm
Any doubts I might've had -
like this being too much trouble -
drifted away on the wind.
My country gal.
I am her husband."
In desperation, they send a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy seeking his help and advice. He suggests going to the American Civil Liberties Union. Thanks to the dogged determination of a young lawyer there, who persists in taking their court from one ruling to another, their case is finally heard by the Supreme Court - a landmark case that legalizes marriages between races.

There is much to learn through the factual information included, as well as the archival materials and photos. It is a beautiful love story, told eloquently and with heart. Written in blank verse, it forces the writer to choose the very best words (and as few as possible) to ensure understanding. Patricia Hruby Powell does just that. This is a complicated and long story, told powerfully. Shadra Strickland's artwork is equally as elegant as are the words, making this a book to be shared and admired.

It is a story about love first, and politics do play a role. It is a story worth knowing. Once you have read this remarkable book, please check out the movie, a historical drama written and directed by Jeff Nichols.

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