June 11, 2008
Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman is working on a documentary that’s sure to be hopeful, fascinating, and at least a little bit heartbreaking. Prom Night in Mississippi tells the story of Charleston High School’s first integrated prom. For the first time ever, black and white students attended their prom together.
Legally, segregation ended in Mississippi over 50 years ago. Public schools were integrated about 40 years ago. But if the story of the Jena Six in Jena, Louisiana taught us anything, it’s that racial separation and racial tensions are alive and well in some parts of our country.
Actor Morgan Freeman is originally from Charleston, Mississippi. Since 1997, Freeman has tried to get the high school to integrate its prom. Each year, he’s offered to pay for the dance if the school allows all students to attend. This year, school officials finally took him up on the offer.
NPR’s Bryant Park Project has a great story today inspired by the upcoming documentary. Photographer Catherine Farquharson worked with the film crew on Prom Night in Mississippi. Her amazing photographs depict a group of excited students getting ready for the prom–and having a great time once they got there. Check out the audio slideshow featuring Farquharson’s genius as well as an interview with one of the students from the high school.
Charleston High School’s 2008 interracial prom went off without a hitch. As you can see from the pictures, the students really enjoyed themselves. But, sadly, some white parents didn’t let their kids attend, and some insisted on holding a private prom of their own. Listen to the whole story here.
Sumedha Sood is a 2007 fellow in the Academy for Alternative Journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The former assistant editor at the Center for American Progress, she is a frequent contributor to WireTap and AlterNet.org.