Prom Night in Mississippi – Kate Moriarty

The year is 2008, yet Charleston High School of Charleston, Mississippi has a had segregated prom up until now, even though it became law in Mississippi, 1970  to integrate schools. The documentary “Prom Night in Mississippi” follows the senior class of Charleston High School through their journey of having the school’s first integrated prom, thanks to Morgan Freeman. Freeman had lived in Charleston before and offered to pay for prom, as long as it was interracial. Even though this was a step forward towards equality, it came with challenges. Both black and white parents and children (more so the parents), still had prejudices against one another. There were disputes and negative comments and actions taken. With that being said, themes of racism, discrimination, and racial ideologies are consistent throughout the film, which can also be related back to information learned in the African American history class. And despite the film following a story that took place fairly recently, it is history.

Originally, Freeman offered to pay for the school’s integrated prom in 1997, but the school refused the offer. The school accepted when he reoffered in 2008. Already, this shows the school’s and the people’s growth and willingness to try and accept others, no matter their race. Different students, parents, and faculty members of the school were interviewed and followed in order to display the racial ideologies present in Charleston. The overall purpose of this film was to document history in the making. It shows how the people of Charleston interact with each other and gives a platform for their opinions and different views on the situation at hand. The film allows the viewers to observe human interaction and how issues regarding race are still prevalent today.

In the documentary, it is easy to see the racism and discrimination present within the city. One way this relates back the history course is the similarities regarding work. For example, once slaves were freed and able to get jobs, they usually received unskilled labor positions, such as shipbuilding, or none at all. In the film, a white student named Jessica says, “I can’t get jobs in some places in town because the the racism is so bad here, because I have black friends. And I get judged by it every day.” Obviously this isn’t the exact same situation, but it is a parallel. People are discriminated based off their color or the color of their friends, which then affects their work life. Then, there was a situation where some parents and children did not approve of the interracial prom, so they create their own “whites only” prom outside of the school. Certain parents practically forced their children to attend this prom while others allow their children to choose for themselves.  Then, there are some examples of racism and discrimination that can be related back to the course. For example, a lot of parents do not allow their children to date a person of a different race. A student says, “There’s people around here that will disown their kids if they try to mix things up like that. A lot of parents, not just one or two.” When blacks became free and were given a few, small rights, some married white people. This caused an issue because a white person would then be looked down upon for being in a relationship with someone of a “lesser race”. A final example is what a black student named Al’Lisha says regarding a fight she was involved in with a white student. She says, “She was white, and I’m black. In this school, the white always win.” Typically in history, if there was a conflict between a black person and a white person, the white person would win.

All of these narratives and themes help us understand African American history because it is a reflection of it. Similar situations were happening in Charleston 2008 and the south decades ago, just maybe not to the same extreme. Being able to physically watch the acts of racism and discrimination in Charleston makes a person think and sympathize with the people who are treated so poorly. But this didn’t just happen in this city. At the end of film, professors on a panel were able to relate to the students of Charleston High School, saying they had a like experiences growing up. Although there has been progress in American regarding racism and discrimination, there is always room for improvement. How can we go up from here, and what are the next steps for reaching equality?


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