Prom as a Civil Rights issue
As a documentary fan, I recently watched Prom Night in Mississippi, which featured Academy Award–winning actor Morgan Freeman. The film follows a group of Charleston High School students in 2008 as they prepare for their senior prom. Mississippi fully integrated its schools in 1970, but until 2008 Charleston held two proms privately funded by parents, one for black students and one for white students. In 1997, Morgan Freeman offered to pay for an official, school-sponsored senior prom in Charleston under one condition: the prom had to be racially integrated. His offer was ignored. In 2008, at the urging of filmmaker Paul Saltzman, Freeman offers again. This time the school board accepts, and Charleston High School has its first-ever integrated prom. Not everyone is happy with this decision, but most students are thrilled and see it as a huge step forward. One racially mixed couple, who in years past would not have been able to attend prom together, had particularly touching interviews.
The film was fantastic. Researching Elijah Lovejoy for the 175th anniversary of his death has made me think more about present-day racism and what we can still do to change things for the better. It is easier to look back on the accomplishments made in the past without realizing how you can personally change the present. Events immortalized in history books always appear more impressive than they seem in the moments in which they are unfolding.
The Huffington Post called Prom Night in Mississippi “uplifting, illuminating and enjoyable . . . important to watch.”
Prom Night in Mississippi, call number: DVD 323.1196073 PRO
You can find a full description and the filmmaker’s statement here: http://www.promnightinmississippi.com/the-film
But wait! There’s more! Not to be outdone by Charleston, Mississippi, a school in Wilcox County, Georgia, just had its first integrated prom this year. That’s right, in 2013. As at Charleston, the Wilcox County High School proms were segregated private dances. Despite opposition, the students themselves organized and raised funds for this year’s integrated dance. I hope stories like this inspire others to take a stand.