prom night in mississippi

ONE TOWN. TWO PROMS.
UNTIL NOW.

1954
The U.S. Supreme Court orders the integration of all segregated schools in America, including all their events.

1970
The town of Charleston, Mississippi, finally allows black students into their one high school. White parents refuse to integrate the school Graduation Dance, starting a tradition of separate, parent-organized White Proms and Black Proms.

2008

Change happens.

Oh. My. Goodness. Guys did you see this!?  Last night was the premiere of the HBO documentary Prom Night in Mississippi.  It was just so darn good.  One of my favorite documentaries ever!  In case you haven’t heard, the town of Charleston, MS had been holding two separate, segregated proms since the schools integrated in 1970.  Morgan Freeman offered to pay for the prom in 2007 if  they would just hold one for all of the students.  His offer was declined.  He tried again in 2008 and his offer was accepted.  The film exposes the climate of race relations in Mississippi and makes clear that this up and coming generation must make a conscious choice to break the cycle of division.

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I have long been a fan of Morgan Freeman.  Probably since the first time I saw the movie Glory. Then he sealed the deal with Robin Hood and Shawshank.  Anyway, I was inspired by the way he spoke to the students and handled the adults on the school board, but the most poignant Morgan moment for me was when he said “If I go around hating you because you have blond hair and blue eyes, I’m doomed. You’re fine, but I’m doomed.”  I believe that with all my heart.  I’m always saying that this racism thing is a double edged sword.  On the surface it may seem like it’s just those being discriminated against who are being hurt by it, but I’ve always felt that most of the damage is done to the discriminator.  I just loved hearing him say that.

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There is a section of the film where the students are so openly talking about the ways they’ve been taught to be racist and pondering why this could be.  Some of the white kids come to the conclusion that it must be that their people don’t want mixed kids in their family.  That’s why the adults are so afraid of an integrated prom.  We’re told that one parent said, “I don’t want no n****r grinding up on my daughter.  I won’t have no mixed kids in this family.”  The fact that people think this way is certainly not news to me.  It’s my history.  I know it well.  And yet, I was so uncomfortable hearing it spoken aloud.  Like kinda squirmy.

There is one interracial couple in the film.  Heck, there is probably one interracial couple in the whole town, and they happen to be students at the school.  They do not hold hands in public.  They have never been on a date because her father, who insists that he is not racist, will not allow it.  He hasn’t “whooped her or nothin”, but he grounded her and took her phone away.  To his dismay she overcame it all and is still dating Jeremy.  They got the most applause during the senior walk at the prom.

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There are so many things I want to relay, but really I think you should just see the film.  Please.

segregation remembered in 1976

I really enjoyed reading this “old” time magazine article.  It’s from the year of my birth, so it’s not that old. Right?  In one of my latest youtube videos I interviewed a biracial woman from West Virginia and we spoke of how some southern whites say they are “proud to be white”, but we think they really mean that they are “proud to not be black”.  The Washington Redskins part of this article brought that conversation to mind.

Segregation Remembered