Artist's Statement

Rachel Jerome Ferraro

Mississippi Queens takes a look at Mississippi at the turn of the millennium, using photography to explore the intersection of people, place, culture, and history. These images trace a path through my home state where I followed the word “Queen” and documented stories seldom regarded in mainstream media.

It’s a mythic place – and the lore ranges from romantic to horrific, often leaving me speechless. But the South beckons a patience that stretches past assumptions and stereotypes. Mississippi's unique history and its inhabitants remain an enigma for me, providing an abundance of inquiries calling for a closer look.

Two decades later, I am returning to the place and the work, having lived on both US coasts, photographed copious subjects, and become a mother and teacher. Using this project as a foundation, I’ve honed in on a more specific topic: a unique era of federally mandated school integration in the South. This query was spurred after reading Nikole Hannah-Jones statement, “If we're measuring the achievement gap between black and white students, that gap was the narrowest at the peak of school integration in 1988. As soon as we start to see the segregation increasing, that achievement gap increases. We've never gotten back to that point.” (NPR)

This peak coincides with my senior year of high school, during which our student council produced my hometown’s first integrated prom. I carried Hannah-Jones words with me (along with extensive research) throughout a recent visit home to celebrate our 30th reunion. I began recording primary accounts from my aging classmates and their parents, along with teachers, and administrators both past and current. I believe these narratives embody a map toward empathy and equity – and it’s a success story I feel compelled to share.

MS Queens: 10”x12” Inkjet Prints

1988 Stories: 10”x12” Inkjet Prints with Text, Documentary Film