In March 1966, LIFE magazine published a feature under the quietly chilling headline, “The Crime of Being Married.” Illustrated with photographs by Grey Villet, the article told the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a married interracial couple battling Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes. Villet’s warm, intimate pictures revealed a close-knit family, including children and grandparents, living their lives in opposition to a patently unjust law — but also captured eloquent moments that suggested just how heavily the Loving’s defiance of that law weighed on the very private couple.
The LIFE article and Villet’s images, read and viewed today, assume a poignancy and power perhaps unimagined by the magazine’s readers in 1966. The couple, after all, was awaiting an appeal on a court ruling that had, in effect, banished them from their hometown. At the time, the Lovings were adamant (in their own unassuming way) that they had no interest in being cast as Civil Rights heroes. All they wanted was to live their lives and raise their children in peace.
But decades later, we know what the people in Villet’s published photographs — a frowning Richard Loving; Mildred Loving, her eyes downcast — might have hoped and prayed for, but could never ultimately count on: namely, that a year later, on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court finally and unanimously decided the case of Loving v. Virginia, ruling against the state and finding all anti-miscegenation laws across the country unconstitutional.
Here, LIFE.com presents a gallery of Grey Villet’s photos of the Lovings, along with sections of the article (below) that appeared in the March 18, 1966, issue of LIFE: