Prom Night in Mississippi

Paul Saltzman

BY Katarina GligorijevicPublished May 4, 2009

In Charleston, Mississippi, racial integration was never quite accomplished. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered school integration but it took Charleston until 1970 to actually allow black students into the town's single high school. Even though class has been integrated ever since, Charleston has always had separate proms for black and white students.

Charleston, Mississippi probably isn't the only town in the United States where remnants of segregation exist but it does happen to be the hometown of Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman. In 1997, Freeman offered to pay for the Charleston High School prom, if it was racially integrated. His offer was ignored until 2008, when the school board finally accepted.

Paul Saltzman's touching documentary follows a group of students from the school as they plan for their first ever integrated prom. Interviews with black and white students tell the story in a humorous and often heart-wrenching way.

Heather and Jeremy are seemingly the only interracial couple at the school, and their uncomplicated devotion to each other is juxtaposed with statements from Heather's white dad, who claims that he won't stop loving her even though she's doing something he can't accept and doesn't agree with — that is, dating a black boy. Change doesn't come easily for Charleston.

Some community members insist on planning their own white-only prom in spite of the efforts at integration. In a hilarious interview, the white parent group's lawyer claims that they don't want to participate in the documentary because they don't want to be perceived as racist. After all, they're just planning a party for their kids, all of whom happen to be white.

Some students' parents forbid them from attending the integrated prom. Still others defiantly disobey. The tides of change seem unstoppable and watching the students shop for dresses and tuxedos, pick dates and make plans for this important rite of passage makes for a stunningly emotional and heart-warming view into this momentous, historical moment that's being carried on the chiffon-clad shoulders of some brave and inspiring teens.
(Return to Mississippi)

Latest Coverage