Mississippi’s First Interracial Couple – Roger Mills and Berta Linson
Mills, who is white, wanted to marry a black woman. In most parts of the country, white men looking for black women would not have been a big deal in 1970. But in Mississippi, a state still resisting integration and clinging to a Jim Crow past that condemned “race mixing” as un-Christian, it absolutely was.
Mills didn’t expect to have any problems when he walked into the local courthouse to apply for a license. Three years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had unanimously struck down a Virginia law banning interracial marriage. Mississippi’s statute was essentially the same as Virginia’s and was surely a dead letter.
It wasn’t that simple. A local racist group got wind of the couple’s plans and successfully petitioned a state judge to issue an order forbidding the county clerk from granting the license.
Mills began to get worried. “We had sent out all of these invitations and were not anticipating this,” Mills said. “This was going to mess up everything. We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
The couple turned to the courts – first state, then federal. After a whirlwind of activity spanning two weeks, a federal appeals court lifted the order on the clerk, and Mills’ union with Berta Linson became Mississippi’s first legally sanctioned interracial marriage.
love is Grand
Roger Mills and his new bride, Berta Linson, are all smiles as they leave the church following their wedding in Jackson, Mississippi, Aug. 3, 1970. The interracial marriage marked the end of the state’s anti-miscegenation laws.
The elder Mills said he never sought his fight.
“I just fell in love,” he said.