Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Ghost of Charleston: Mississippi School Holds First Interracial Prom

Can schools change communities? Is it their responsibility to do so?

One High School in Charleston, Mississippi may have begun to change the community by agreeing to hold their first ever interracial prom on school grounds as NPR reported on Thursday.

As it turned out, it was not due to the activism of the school's administrators that this historic event was able to take place. Rather, it took a Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman and actor Morgan Freeman to initiate the process.

Charleston High School was able to turn a blind eye to the issue of segregated proms by letting parents take over the organization of separate proms and hold them off school grounds. Many parents believed it was in line with "tradition" to have segregated proms.

So the tradition lived on until this year when filmmaker Saltzman heard about the issue. He found out that Morgan Freeman had offered to pay for an integrated prom at Charleston High School back in 1997 and that this offer was refused. Saltzman contacted Morgan Freeman this year and they both went to the school board and the senior class with an offer to pay for the event and capture it on film in a documentary Prom Night in Mississippi.

Salzman explains that some white parents could not get past history and did not allow their children to attend the integrated prom.

But the school has agreed to fund the integrated prom for next year so that it was the students that prevailed and made the integrated prom the new school "tradition". As student Chasidy Buckley proclaimed in a sound bite about the successful event:
"We proved ourselves wrong, we proved the community wrong because they didn't think this was going to happen."

In the end, it was the students, the school and the community working together that made this change possible. But could the school have played a larger role in being a catalyst for change? Is it not their responsibility as an institution to open the doors for change and leave the ghosts of the past behind?

Original article, Photos and Audio interviews


Anonymous said...

I need to say how moved I am at this moment. I have just watched Prom in Mississippi, and the courage and strength that these young people exhibited to the world is so inspiring.

I graduated from Humphrey's Co High School, Class of 74. We did not have a prom. I have often thought that, and think, that it was something robbed from me. The ability and opportunity to spend a night of rejoicing with my fellow classmates. Shout of our accomplishments,shout of our hopes. But we were not allowed.

The fact that racism is so alive in Mississippi is why I left the state. I reside now in New York City, well right outside NYC. I am here because I can experience a freedom that I am not allowed at home.

I was one of the few white students at my high school. I was there because I choose to be. It is that experience that has laid the foundation for who I am today. I would not be who I am had I attended a private academy.

I thank you board for allowing this documentary to be made.

I pray the class of '09 will be allowed the opportunity for a mixed and fully diverse prom.

Again, let me say thank you and how moved, inspired and proud of these students action

Anonymous said...

I watched Prom in Mississppi today,and i can't believe that this is still going on. This makes MS look like the entire state is like this, but we aren't. I'm from Jackson, MS and it's nothing like that down here. everyone gets along with everyone. i mean people have their differences and arguments and not everyone is going to like each other, but we've gotten past the whole "black" and "white" thing many years ago. I can't believe there is still a town like this. its pretty ridiculous and they shouldn't be living in the 50's or earlier. its 2009, its just not like that anymore. i can't believe a parent would tell their child to have a certain color because that colored person hung other colored people or acted better or whatever. its wrong and they have to start living these days, not those. these years are totally different now. we have freedom, everyone has freedom. MS isn't like most people think, its a pretty good state and we are allowed freedom, except the people in charleston and other counties that are still like this. I feel for everyone still like this.