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50 Years Later, 'Loving' Revisits The Landmark Supreme Court Ruling


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Next Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that overturned the laws that remained in 16 states prohibiting interracial marriage. The plaintiffs were Richard and Mildred Loving. He was white. She was black. They couldn't legally marry in their home state, Virginia. So they went to Washington, D.C., where it was legal, and then returned home, where they were soon arrested. Here's Mildred Loving in a 1967 report on ABC News, describing what happened in 1958 on the night the sheriff came to arrest the Lovings in their home while they were sleeping.


MILDRED LOVING: The night we were arrested - I guess it was about 2 a.m. And I saw this light, you know? And I woke up, and it was the policeman standing beside the bed. And he told us to get up and that we was under arrest. Anyway, they carted us to Bowling Green and locked us up. And in January, they had the trial. And they told us to leave the state for 25 years.

GROSS: The Virginia courts upheld the law banning interracial marriage, but the Supreme Court decision striking it down was unanimous. Chief Justice Earl Warren's written decision described Virginia's ban as designed to maintain white supremacy. My guest, Sheryll Cashin, is the author of the new book "Loving: Interracial Intimacy In America And The Threat To White Supremacy."

She's a professor of constitutional law and race in American law at Georgetown University. She clerked for Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice. She says she wrote the book from a personal perspective as the daughter of civil-rights activists and a descendant of slaves and slave holders. We'll talk about how her parents' activism affected her childhood a little later. First, we'll talk about the Loving decision, which overturned what were known as anti-miscegenation laws.

Sheryll Cashin, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you tell the story behind the word miscegenation, a story I never knew before. Do you want to explain how the word miscegenation was created and for what reason?

SHERYLL CASHIN: It was created as a political hoax. You know, dog whistling about race mixing has been going on since the time of Jefferson. You know, when Jefferson was running for office, you know, people dog-whistled about the fact that he, you know, allegedly - and now it's proven - you know, had a relationship with Sally Hemings.

But this fear of amalgamation - that was the term of art before 1864 - the fear of white people mixing with blacks and, you know, the idea of - we need a white racial purity, and we need to protect it. That was part of the political machinations. And so in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, when Lincoln is debating - and this is what brings him on the national scene - one of the things that Stephen Douglas really pushed at him was - he claimed that because Lincoln was anti-slavery, he was pro-amalgamation.

And they're trying to scare off the working whites from supporting the anti - this new anti-slavery party, the party of Lincoln, Republicans. And then when - and, fortunately, Lincoln who's very deft, was able to win and become the president despite that. And then when he's up for re-election, these guys come up with this political hoax. They come out with this pamphlet. They make up this name, miscegenation.

Miscere - putting together two Latin words - miscere - to mix - genus - race - miscegenation. And they basically put out a fake pamphlet that is supposed to be - looks like a pro-mixing document endorsed by the Republican Party. And for about a year, some people fell for this. Lincoln, fortunately, did win despite that. And it's exposed as a hoax later.

GROSS: And the booklet is called "Miscegenation: The Theory Of The Blending Of The Races Applied To The American White Man And Negro." And you describe it as advocating the creation of a superior race through the mixing of the races and that this was, like, fake stuff designed to scare people into thinking that this was actually Lincoln's agenda, that this is what he wanted to do...

CASHIN: Lincoln's agenda, right (laughter).

GROSS: ...Create a superior race through the mixing.

CASHIN: By mixing, right. You know, your daughter's going to end up being in bed with a Negro if you vote for Lincoln and the Republican Party.

GROSS: OK. Let's get to the actual story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who were the plaintiffs in the 1967 Supreme Court case. Tell us a little bit about the background of Richard and of Mildred.

CASHIN: First of all, they come from a little hamlet called Central Point, which had existed from colonial times. From colonial times, there were three populations in this little, rural-farmer's hamlet. There were Native Americans, blacks and poor whites. And just like in Colonial Virginia in the 1600s, these people were used to working together.

And so Central Point had a long history of mixing. And there were a lot of mixed-race people. Mildred Loving herself - her maiden name was Jeter. Mildred Jeter came from a family that claimed mixed-black and Native American Rappahannock heritage. And Richard Loving was an interesting guy. You know, he first meets Mildred because he comes to Mildred's house to hear her brothers play bluegrass music.

So he liked hanging out with her brothers. He had Negro or colored friends. His two best friends - they drag-raced cars together. He worked. His father worked for one of the largest Negro - I'm using the term that was, you know, the term used for black people at the time - the largest Negro landowners in the county. And so they were used to mixing despite virulent Jim-Crow segregation that forced Mildred to go to very inferior, colored schools. And Richard went to the better-resourced white schools.

Well, you know, he falls in love. They fall in love. And they, you know - you fall in love. People have sex. She got pregnant. He did the honorable thing. He loved her, and he wanted to marry her. And I think, somehow, he knew he couldn't marry her in Virginia because of the 1924 law. And so they go off to D.C., get married and come back to live in Virginia.

And the 1924 law rendered them felons. And a very willful sheriff comes and drags them out of their bed in the middle of the night after they've been married a couple of weeks and throws them into jail. Mildred spends five days in jail. And that's the beginning of their nine-year journey just to live as man and wife in Virginia.

GROSS: So Richard gets on a thousand dollars bail. But she stays in a rat-infested jail cell for five days while she is several months pregnant, no less.

CASHIN: Right.

GROSS: So the Lovings got a lawyer. And the lawyer basically told them to negotiate a plea. So they did. They negotiated a plea for a one-year, suspended sentence on the terms that they would agree to leave the state.

CASHIN: Right.

GROSS: And they were banned from returning for 25 years.

CASHIN: Right.

GROSS: So they moved to Mildred's cousin's house in Washington, D.C. And why do they end up going back to Virginia?

CASHIN: Well, these were country folks. They missed the country. They missed the way - their rural way of life. They missed their family. They missed this community they were so tied to. I think, particularly for Mildred, she found D.C. and city life miserable. And she didn't like that her children didn't have a place to play. And, you know, one of her children got hit by a car. That seemed to be the last straw. This woman was the most reluctant of agitators. I think had her son not get hit by a car, she may not have finally got the gumption to do something. But that's why. And they kept going back and getting caught.

GROSS: Going back to Virginia and getting caught by the police.

CASHIN: Just to visit, and they would get caught. I think they got caught and rearrested twice.

GROSS: You said, she was the most reluctant of agitators. Her husband was, perhaps, even more reluctant.

CASHIN: They both were. They both were. I think they found their voice, you know, as - once they got lawyers. ACLU lawyers were representing them, and they started talking to reporters. I suspect - I don't have any independent information on this - I just suspect that the lawyers told them that it would help their case if they started talking to reporters.

And so, you know, there's wonderful footage of them. And you see them starting to talk, particularly Mildred. You see her starting to talk, not just about what this means for her family, but what it means for other people, as well.

GROSS: How did they end up bringing their case to the Supreme Court? They're not people who thought in those terms. They were not activists.

CASHIN: No, not at all. They were quiet people who really just wanted to be left alone. And I think Richard, in particular, was shocked that it was going this far. He - as I understand it, he kept having hope that the guy who entered the 25-year banishment would just come around and just let them come back and - after a few years. But the ACLU lawyers perceived that this could be big.

But by 1967, I think the court was ready to hear it. And the Supreme Court of Virginia handed them - the lawyers in the case - on a silver platter, an opinion that - it was pretty nasty in its language. I mean, it basically condoned white supremacy. And it condoned this idea of racial inferiority of people. And by 1967, particularly, you know, Chief Justice Warren at that time, he had evolved a lot from the time when he was an attorney general in California.

So this - you know, it all comes to a head. And Chief Justice Warren in the case says, you know, these laws are a relic of slavery and an instrument of white supremacy. And he says it aloud in - with capital letters. And he's basically, I think, trying to steer the country toward accepting that we can't have a country based on this idea anymore. It's time to put this to bed.

GROSS: So, you know, your book is called "Loving: Interracial Intimacy In America And The Threat To White Supremacy." And Chief Justice Earl Warren's decision in the Loving v. Virginia case actually mentions white supremacy. He writes that Virginia's ban on interracial marriage was, quote, "designed to maintain white supremacy," unquote. Do you know if white supremacy was ever, like, named that way in a Supreme Court decision before or even after?

CASHIN: That was the first time and the signature time when the Supreme Court of the United States says explicitly, this law is about maintaining white supremacy - the first time they used these words to name what the Civil War and the 14th Amendment should have defeated, right?

There are a couple other times where a justice might have said this, but this is the Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, all right. And I think that is the signature victory in that case.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Sheryll Cashin. She's the author of the new book "Loving: Interracial Intimacy In America And The Threat To White Supremacy." Her parents were civil rights activists, and Cashin herself clerked for Thurgood Marshall. We're going to take a short break, and then we'll talk about some of that. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Sheryll Cashin. She's the author of the new book "Loving: Interracial Intimacy And The Threat To White Supremacy." It's about the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia that overturned state laws banning marriage between whites and people of color. June 12 marks the 50th anniversary of the decision. Cashin is a law professor at Georgetown University. She clerked for Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice. She grew up in Huntsville, Ala. Her parents were civil rights activists.

So in 1967, the year of Loving v. Virginia, your father was creating an alternate party to the Democratic Party in Alabama because the Democratic Party was the party of Governor George Wallace. What was the slogan?

CASHIN: Segregation today, segregation tomorrow...

GROSS: Yeah...

CASHIN: ...Segregation forever, you know.

GROSS: ...That's the one I was thinking of, yeah.

CASHIN: That's what, unfortunately, too much of Alabama's associated with, that Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.

GROSS: Yeah, so 1967 was a really significant year in your family's life. So let's back up a little bit. When you were four months old, you were with your mother when she was arrested for participating in a sit-in when she was trying to integrate - what was it? - a lunch counter or...

CASHIN: Yes, it was a sit-in movement in Huntsville trying to order food.

GROSS: So were you taken to jail with her when you were four months old?

CASHIN: That's what I'm told. I didn't - they didn't keep me there long. And I should say that my parents knew that Huntsville was very different than Birmingham. The police in Huntsville would sort of stand, and they would just - they were polite. There was no violence there. And in some ways, you know, all of these things were orchestrated. But in some ways, they would stand and protect - there was no violence.

So you know, my parents, as part of a strategy to bring attention to their movement - there had been a news blackout. Huntsville news just decided if we don't cover this, it's not happening. And so they came up with this idea - an eight-month pregnant woman, some - Dr. Hereford - Mrs. Martha Hereford, a black doctor's wife, and my mother, black dentist wife with a 4-month-old baby went along with these college students in the protest and got themselves arrested. Well, that got news (laughter). And that's what my parents were like (laughter).

GROSS: So what that story - what does that story mean to you knowing that when you were 4 months old you were unknowingly, you know, a part of this protest?

CASHIN: Well, it's a source of pride, you know. I just - my childhood was like that, you know? My parents, after being part of this movement that desegregated public accommodations, they moved on to desegregating the schools. And me and my brothers were some of the first black children to attend previously all-white schools. We integrated the school we went to. We integrated a neighborhood. We forced our way into a neighborhood. The N-word access a particular school. That was what I was used to. And then I grew up in - my father founds this independent party, NDPA. And I grew up...

GROSS: And that was for the New Democratic Party...

CASHIN: National...

GROSS: National Democratic Party of Alabama.

CASHIN: Right. So you couldn't even vote for Lyndon Johnson in 1964 because the party of George Wallace wouldn't put him on the ballot. And so my father and other liberals, white and black liberals, in the state were incensed. And so they figured out that you can charter your own party and not only vote for the national Democratic candidates but also run people for office in these counties in the state that were predominantly black.

So I grew up licking NDPA stamps, but, you know, again, with a multi-racial, biracial coalition of change agents who, like some of the people I feature in this book, who - Frederick Douglas and his crew - they enjoyed sticking their finger in the eye of white supremacy by, you know, agitating together. And they had fun doing it. They were friends, you know. And that's what my childhood was like. And that's what kind of led me to celebrate some of these folks like Thaddeus Stevens, you know, and his paramour, Lydia Smith.

GROSS: So I want to, like, underscore something that you just said, that in the 1960s, you could not vote for Lyndon Johnson in Alabama because George Wallace didn't want him on the ballot. Therefore, he wasn't on the ballot. That's...

CASHIN: Because...

GROSS: ...Kind of remarkable.

CASHIN: Exactly, exactly. White supremacy is kind of remarkable, right? And if you think - what George Wallace represented, in - you know, may he rest in peace, he changed, you know. My mother voted for him by the time that - you know, in his last iteration, he changed. And actually (laughter) George Wallace started out as a racial liberal, and then he didn't want to get out-nigra'd (ph) as - that's his famously - but, you know, white supremacy forced people throughout the history of our country to decide where are you - what are you going to do with this line? What side are you going to be on? Are you willing to subvert it? Are you willing to go against this, you know? And at that point, Wallace and, you know, white supremacy Democrats in the state were trying to hold on to this idea.

GROSS: My guest is Sheryll Cashin. Her new book, "Loving," is about the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving versus Virginia, which overturned all the remaining state laws that banned interracial marriage. After a break, we'll talk about how she helped integrate her school and how her family integrated a neighborhood. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Sheryll Cashin, author of the new book "Loving" about Loving versus Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that overturned laws banning interracial marriage. Monday will be the 50th anniversary of that decision. One of her earlier books is a memoir about growing up in Huntsville, Ala., where her parents were civil rights activists. When we left off, we were talking about being from an activist family.

You know a few weeks ago I interviewed somebody named Richard Rothstein, who you might know of.

CASHIN: I know him well.

GROSS: Yeah. And he wrote a really good book about the history of racism in housing policy.

CASHIN: Right.

GROSS: And among the things he writes about is housing covenants that prevented African-Americans from moving into white neighborhoods. And one way of getting around those covenants was to give money to a white person to buy the house. And then the white person gives the black person the deed to the house, opening the door for the black person or black family to move into that white neighborhood. And so it was interesting for me to read in your previous book, a memoir, that that's how your parents got their home.

CASHIN: That is exactly what they did. You know, we were the only black family at the Unitarian church. You know, my father used to joke that he was politically a Baptist but intellectually a Unitarian.


CASHIN: So, you know, all those scientists sent to Huntsville to help Wernher von Braun put the man on the moon. You know, these people were not committed to supremacy. And they enjoyed helping to subvert it. And my father tried for two years to buy a house in a particular school zone. I have a brother who has partial deafness. And he needed to get his kid into the one school in the city that had programs for partially deaf kids or for deaf kids.

And no one would sell to a black man, much less an uppity one like Dr. Cashin. And then he finally - just - light bulb went off. Like, forget this, right? And he just, you know, got a friend to do it. And when we moved in - within a week of us moving in, someone shot a bullet through the front window, you know?

GROSS: How old were you when that happened?

CASHIN: I was young. I don't remember hearing it. But I remember we left the bullet hole there. And it was a matter of pride. We left it there. And we, you know, put our finger on it. But...

GROSS: For how long?

CASHIN: It was always there. The little bullet hole was always there (laughter). But, you know, one other thing my dad did, though, is - we - you know, a long parade of people kept driving in front of the house to see - who's this black family who invaded this neighborhood? And he got the biggest, blackest man he could find to stand out front of the neighborhood to (laughter) make it clear because a lot of us were light skins. Like, yes, this is where the negros live. Sorry. We're here (laughter).

GROSS: Did...

CASHIN: He had a sense of humor.

GROSS: Were all the neighbors hostile? And did that quiet down after a while?

CASHIN: No. No. Absolutely not. The immediate block was quite nice. The guy next door - he moved immediately, and a Jewish family moved in. And, you know, we became real buddies with the Jewish family. But the people in the immediate neighborhood were very nice. We had no problems. All the kids played together.

GROSS: So as a result of moving to a middle-class neighborhood that you were supposed to be shut out of because you were black - but as a result of moving there, you got to go to a better school than you would have 'cause the better schools are usually in the middle-class neighborhoods and back then, certainly, in the white neighborhoods. So you got a good education. But you also - you and your brother, I think, you know, helped to integrate the school. It's not a role you volunteered for. It's more of a role, like, your parents volunteered you for. What were the pressures on you as a child integrating a school?

CASHIN: Well, for the most part, it was OK. I mean, again, Huntsville was not - I didn't have anything like Little Rock. You know I mean? I never had some adults shouting at me or anything. I mean, I can remember a few things here and there - you know, some white kid calling me jungle bunny. You know, just little things - but just modest, little things.

For the most part, everything was fine. You know, the teachers were fine. I made friends. But, you know, I've got to say, I mean, I ended up - we ended up moving out of that neighborhood and back to the neighborhood I was born in. And I went to an integrated school on the other side of town. And I got a very good education over 12 years at Huntsville public schools.

I got to go to public school at a time when the work of Thurgood Marshall - you know, the South was living up to it. Integrated, well-resourced schools with good teachers who cared about me - and I can't say that that's for the neighborhoods I lived in. You know, for that - the black side of town we moved back to, I can't say that that's the case today, unfortunately.

GROSS: So the year that your father created the National Democratic Party of Alabama as an alternative to the Democratic Party of segregationist George Wallace - so that was 1967, the year of the Loving decision. The year before that, the Alabama Democratic Party gave up its official slogan, which was white supremacy for the right.


GROSS: Again, in terms of how remarkable our history is in America - in 1966, the Democratic Party actually had that as a slogan. White supremacy for the right.

CASHIN: Yes. It was - a rooster was their emblem. And it said white supremacy above the rooster's head and for the right on the banner below. And think about that. The Voting Rights Act is passed in 1965. You had hundreds of thousands of newly registered voters in the state entering the voting booth for the first time. And the Democratic Party's the only game in town. And what do you see but that slogan?

And I've told that story - you know, gave a speech last year in Alabama. And I had people come up to me and say, I didn't know that. And then they didn't - you know, went back and looked at it. It's like, I can't believe it. It's like, you know, we will forget history if we don't keep bringing it up again.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sheryll Cashin, author of the new book "Loving: Interracial Intimacy In America And The Threat To White Supremacy." She's also the author of an earlier book. That's a memoir called "The Agitator's Daughter." We're going to take a short break, and we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Sheryll Cashin. She's the author of the new book "Loving: Interracial Intimacy And The Threat To White Supremacy." It's about the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia that overturned state laws banning marriage between whites and people of color. June 12 marks the 50th anniversary of the decision.

Cashin is a law professor at Georgetown University. She clerked for Thurgood Marshall, who was the first African-American Supreme Court justice. She grew up in Huntsville, Ala. Her parents were civil-rights activists.

So your father turns to politics. He not only starts this new Democratic Party. He runs on it. He runs for governor against George Wallace.

CASHIN: Yes (laughter).

GROSS: Needless to say, he loses.


CASHIN: Right. But if he were here, he'd say, I got 14 percent of the vote.


GROSS: So this must've change your life a lot because your father's out campaigning a lot. You're sometimes out campaigning with him. How old were you then?

CASHIN: It was 1970. So I was about 9.

GROSS: What was it like for you to watch your father run for office against George Wallace?

CASHIN: Well I never saw them debate side by side. I don't think, you know - he wouldn't have - I don't think Wallace would have done that. But I - these are some of the fondest memories of my childhood. My father was a dentist by profession, made quite a bit of money, had bought himself a four-seater airplane. And he was a pilot and flew it himself.

And, you know, he would fly down into the Black Belt. Or, sometimes, we would drive down there. But it felt like we went to every black church in the Black Belt of Alabama. And it's called the Black Belt because it's the central part of the state where the soil is very dark, farmland where the plantation economy reigned supreme a hundred years before. And so these descendants of slaves were now a political majority in these counties.

And that's where NDPA and Dad concentrated. He didn't have any illusion about winning governor. But they did win - NDPA candidates down on the ballot won, you know, county sheriff, county supervisor, school board. You saw black people empowering themselves.

And my father had the same stump speech. And he would invoke Frederick Douglass, and I would get very inspired when he would do this. And every single time he would get people excited. People would be jumping up. Like, yes. You know, this radical idea - I'm not just a voter. I could run for office and get myself elected to something and that - you know, my father's favorite period in history was reconstruction. It's the first time, possibly in the history of the world, where you're seeing a biracial or multi-racial politics where everybody gets to run and have voice, right?

And he's doing that in 1967, but it was done in 1867. And Barack Obama did it in 2008. And it's - that is the strongest affront to white supremacy. And I believe there's still some people who can't accept that idea of a multi-racial politics where a lot of different people have voice.

GROSS: So were there threats against your family while your father was organizing this party and then running on its ticket?

CASHIN: Absolutely. My father - like I said, he had his own plane. It was sabotaged twice. He crashed in it twice.

GROSS: Whoa.

CASHIN: And my father survived that and decided, I think I'm done flying. He never flew again.

GROSS: Did he crash from...

CASHIN: Well, he...

GROSS: Did he fall out of the sky and crash?

CASHIN: No, no, no, no. No. So whoever sabotaged his plane knew what they were doing. They fiddled around with the rudder pedals so that it would take off but then collapse when he's landing. So he was, you know, coming down landing, and then the landing gear collapses. So it crashed, perhaps not as effectively as anybody sabotaged it wanted it to crash. And there were death threats all the time - you know, people calling the house - that kind of thing.

GROSS: Did that mean you were scared a lot of the time?

CASHIN: No. No, because I was not made aware of of the death threats until I was, you know, much older. I thought my father was the smartest, biggest, greatest. He was superhero, right? Nobody was bigger, badder, smarter than Daddy. And it never occurred to me to be frightened of anything because I lived in his house. And he had guns.


CASHIN: He had guns (laughter). And I knew that, right? You know, it's like - and he had friends with guns (laughter). So it just never occurred to me to be scared. And he - you know, when I interviewed him later, he said, you know, most people who leave a death threat are cowards. You know, they're calling to leave a death threat. They're not planning on doing anything, you know?

GROSS: Except you never really know, do you?


GROSS: Because some of them are.


CASHIN: I know. I know.

GROSS: I mean, we know through history that some of them are. So...

CASHIN: Some of them are.

GROSS: ...It's hard to be sanguine about something like that.

CASHIN: No, I know. I know. But, you know, you can't - so it was a miracle that my dad got to die a natural death of natural causes (laughter).

GROSS: What were some of the other prices your family paid and that he paid for his activism?

CASHIN: Oh, the city of Huntsville took his dental office by eminent domain. It put a parking lot there.

GROSS: Why did they do that? Was that part of, like, an urban-renewal thing, or was it...

CASHIN: So it was part of an urban-renewal thing. And so defenders would say, well, it was part of the downtown urban renewal. But most of the - as is the history with many urban-renewal programs - most of the families that had their houses or their property moved were black, right? There are a lot of other older homes in downtown Huntsville that were never touched.

So, you know, I don't want to get too deep into it. But it wouldn't be surprising to me if it was convenient to move a lot of black families, including John Kashan's dental office and his boyhood home that had the NDPA headquarters in it from downtown (laughter). You don't know for certain. But that that happened. You know, the IRS went after him. We lost a lot of our family wealth. And, you know, my dad did things he shouldn't have done.

GROSS: What kind of things?

CASHIN: It's not a happy memory. One of the things he did that he got caught for was cashing my grandmother's Social Security checks. Somehow, after my grandmother died, they never got around to reporting to the state or the federal government that she had died. And he just continued to cash them. I don't know how that happened - seems pretty stupid to me.

You know, the day will come when I tell my sons that there's not a lot of room for error for a black man in this country. So walk the straight and narrow. You know, don't break the law because there's a high probability that you will go to jail. My dad did.

GROSS: You know, you mentioned that your father was a dentist, and he made a lot of money. And I'm wondering how his business - was his office in a black neighborhood?

CASHIN: Yes. The black neighborhood that was moved by urban renewal (laughter).

GROSS: Oh, of course, right.

CASHIN: That's right. You know, it was very common story, right? Black people...

GROSS: I love your take on this. You know, a lot of people say that there was - like, one advantage of segregation for black people was that in a neighborhood you'd have people of lesser means and people who are middle-class and people who are very prosperous. You had a professional class there, black doctors, black teachers. They lived in the same neighborhood.

And that after segregation ended, the classes divided, and we ended up with, you know, with ghettos and black middle-class neighborhoods. And, you know, the cultures became separated that way. I'm interested in hearing your take on that, you know, having grown up with a father who is a dentist.

CASHIN: Right. So the thing that made black communities really work for a lot of people were those - they were economically integrated, as you said, right? But I also think there's a lot of what I call Jim Crow nostalgia. You know, my father will say that as much as he loved the black community and being part of it, you know, he went to very inferior schools. The high school he went to was near the city dump, and you could smell the city dump. You know - didn't have science labs, he didn't romanticize that, right?

And so when it came to his own kids, you know, he fought to desegregate public schools. He fought for the idea that people should be able to live wherever they want. Are there some, perhaps, unintended consequences? I guess you could - we could get into that, but I'll say, you know, ghettos, which you've mentioned, are intentional government creation. There's a lot of intentionality around that. And that's, you know, beyond the scope of this interview I think, but my father's generation and the generation after that I really credit with the civil rights movement, they had to tackle frontally white supremacy, you know. And I'm proud that they did.

GROSS: My guest is Sheryll Cashin. Her new book is called "Loving: Interracial Intimacy In America And The Threat To White Supremacy." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Sheryll Cashin, author of the new book "Loving: Interracial Intimacy In America And The Threat To White Supremacy." She's a law professor at Georgetown University. She grew up in Huntsville, Ala., the daughter of civil rights activists.

So you go - you went to law school. Your father wanted you to be a senator, but you decided to go to law school and became a law professor and author. You clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice. What was he like to work for?

CASHIN: Delicious.

GROSS: (Laughter).

CASHIN: I should say Thurgood Marshall and my grandfather were classmates in undergrad. And so he kind of treated me a bit like a granddaughter, you know. And he's just so full of stories and the best storyteller on Earth. And as much as I could, you know - between having to work really, really hard, I would sit with him.

And he would reminisce. You know, he could go from telling a story about going down to fight these civil rights battles - going down into the sleepy Southern towns and getting out of there within a hair of his life to helping draft the Kenyan constitution and to hanging out with Lena Horne or hanging out with Langston Hughes in college down in the village with the hip crowd, you know, everything that came out of his mouth was like gold. And he was just delightful. I loved him dearly.

GROSS: Did Justice Marshall believe that black people would ever be treated as equals under the law?

CASHIN: He certainly hoped that. He really hoped it. He really hoped that that would be the case.

GROSS: And did he make you any more or less optimistic about the future of racial justice and equality?

CASHIN: Oh, well, the year I clerked for him, there was a school desegregation case in which the court retreated. Basically, it was a court where it was the beginning of the retreat from policing school desegregation. You know, basically saying to the extent that neighborhoods are segregated. It's not the school's fault, so they shouldn't have to overcome basically people's preferences and where to live. And then that was the beginning of the end - right? - of having vigorous enforcement of the ideals of Brown. And I'll be honest, you know, I saw his heart breaking with that case. It was hard for me to watch. It was hard for him to watch. And that was part of the reason why I didn't go to become a civil-rights lawyer at that time. It was 1990, 1991. I would look at the courts.

And, you know, after the Reagan and Bush administrations had filled the courts with people who weren't exactly - they certainly were very different from the Warren court - and what Chief Justice Warren was - the direction he was steering. They were moving toward this sort of colorblind, constitutionalism jurisprudence. So I, you know, went home to Alabama after clerking for him, thinking, well, the way - what we really need to do is be involved in politics, right?

The courts - you can't get equality through the courts now. You know, but you have to - it's public policy and fighting for the right public policy. That that's the place I came to after a year of clerking and not being particularly inspired by what I saw in terms of the direction of the courts at that time.

GROSS: So I want to get back to your father for a moment. He led a very interesting life. (Laughter) You know, he was a civil-rights activist along with your mother. He created an alternate to the Democratic Party to oppose George Wallace in Alabama. He was a successful dentist. He had a plane. He - but there were death threats. His dental office was taken away. Did you ever say to yourself, I want to lead an interesting life but maybe not quite as interesting as my father's?


CASHIN: You clearly read my memoir, Terry.


CASHIN: You got that right. You know, I mean, that's - the book was called "The Agitator's Daughter." It's not the book I'm plugging today. But, you know, there are consequences for the children of activists. And, you know, my family - we experienced that.

And so I'll be honest. You know, I'm passionate about these issues. But I also have this thing about security, you know? And I think that when you experience - I experience - we went from living in this beautiful, big house on a hill, you know the father who flew a plane. At one point, he had a Rolls Royce. It was an antique, but still, you know.

I mean - very fluent existence to moving back to, you know, a very small house, the house I was born in - five people living on my mother's, you know, $17,000-a-year salary at Community Action Agency, right? So I think I probably got a little bit of that Scarlett O'Hara - I will never be hungry again.


CASHIN: When you experience - there is nothing romantic about being poor. There is nothing, right? But I'll say I inherited my parents' - both my parents' passion. I inherited their thirst for education. Both of them were extremely smart, extremely well-read people.

And I - you know, I'm a third generation valedictorian. My father was a valedictorian. My grandmother was a valedictorian. I became valedictorian - co-valedictorian - of my class, right? You know, they gave me everything I needed to excel, right? And so through education, you know, I did well. And I try to advocate for the same kind of folks my parents were advocating for.

I just don't do it - I guess I'll be honest. I don't take the risks that they did. I'm not out there as much. But, you know, I try to be out there with my words. I'm sure they're proud of me.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

CASHIN: I really appreciate it, Terry. It's such an honor.

GROSS: Sheryll Cashin is the author of the new book "Loving: Interracial Intimacy In America And The Threat To White Supremacy." She's a law professor at Georgetown University. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be National Geographic conservation photographer Paul Nicklen, who specializes in taking pictures of the polar regions. He's been focusing on the impact of climate change on polar bears, penguins, sea animals and the ice. He grew up in an Inuit community a few hundred miles from the North Pole. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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