Imagine Romeo and Juliet, but this time it's staged with a twist. Instead of Shakespeare's Verona, this is America, 1960. White Romeo courts black Juliet across the racial divide, CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports.
Just as with what Shakespeare wrote, the conflict is unnecessary, and hatred is the hand-me-down of generations. But this student production at the University of Virginia, adds the sharp edge of color with a purpose.
"We'd love to start a discussion," says Steve Shepherd, the productions' director.
A discussion, says Shepherd, of a real-life drama. The phenomenon on college campuses is that despite integration, blacks still socialize mostly with blacks, and whites with whites.
"Maybe just by seeing a play, they'll be able to think, what if things were different?" Shepherd asks.
The separation exists at most schools. But at Virginia, fraternity row is still largely white, and African Americans have given names to their ritual hangouts, like the "black bus stop."
Whites congregate too. But since whites are the majority, no one questions when they keep to themselves. "It's easy for us to forget what its like to be a minority," Shepherd says.
Which is why some whites don't get the black bus stop. "I think it makes some of us uncomfortable, especially when we walk through," one white student says.
"I just don't think it promotes integration," another adds.
Maybe not. But it's that very concept of integration that's changing. These students don't subscribe to Martin Luther King's ideal of a color-blind society. Integration to them is a no-barrier society. With the freedom to choose togetherness, or not.
"The fight for integration was a fight to be able to choose where you go to school, where you work," says a black woman who attends Virginia.
"We're making the choice of just being here," another woman says. "We feel comfortable with people of our own color."
Ultimately, the students are asking the most politically incorrect question in America: Now that official, public segregation has been banned and is seen as evil, could it be that private, social segregation is natural or even desirable?
Shakespeare, of course, had his thoughts about how alienation brings tragedy. And, for a sold-out audience, it was hard to miss the point.
Students are forced to leave their comfort zones. When Juliet dies, the families stand there, confused by the gap between them and stunned by the pain. There's an outstretched hand, an offer of peace.
But this is America, and there's no telling how that drama ends.
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff