Georgia High School Students Organize First Integrated Prom
12:27 p.m. EDT, April 11, 2013
It’s prom season. For a lot of teenagers, this means drama.
Who will be their date? Do they even need a date? What tuxedo or dress should they buy?
In Clinton, a male senior at The Morgan School created quite a ruckus because he wanted to wear a dress to his prom; seemingly just for the fun of it. But a bigger story emerged, as transgender-awareness advocates championed his provocative attempt to, um, dress up for the big night.
“I sparked a revolution I’m not even part of,” Cameron Engle told WFSB-TV. Ultimately, Engle decided to pass on the prom.
In Wilcox County, Ga., four female high school students — two white and two black — are also inspiring a revolution over a change in tradition at their prom. They very much want to be part of this effort.
The young women are organizing the first ever racially integrated prom for Wilcox County High School. Yes, in 2013, this remnant of the old, rural South, 160 miles north of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthplace in Atlanta, is still saddled by the tradition of segregated proms and homecomings.
If you want to see how the seeds of bigotry are planted, look no further than Wilcox County, home to Rochelle, Ga., where the high school is located. The county is populated by 8,800 people, about 1,200 of whom live in Rochelle. The demographics there are 50 percent white, 46 percent African American and about 2 percent Latino. Median income is about $22,000.
If you also want to see the best approach to eradicating bigotry, look too to Wilcox Country. The student uprising is an example of how a new generation, whose members grew up socializing with folks who didn’t look like them, can make a difference in attitudes about race.
The adults in Wilcox County, for the most part, have taken a pass. Yes, the school’s “leadership committee” will discuss the matter of a 2014 prom at its next meeting. The superintendent and school board recently passed a resolution that all high school activities should be inclusive.
Stephanie Sinnot, Mareshia Rucker, Quanesha Wallace and Keela Bloodworth have taken a different approach — summoning courage to lead and take on the complicated topic of race head on with a solution.
“When you are the leaders of the county and you allow your community to retreat to the era of segregation, you are the problem,” said Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia NAACP, referring to parents and administrators, in an interview with a Georgia television station.
The students’ efforts to host an integrated prom off site has generated international support through a new Facebook page, which now has about 21,000 “likes.” Although there is significant support for the integrated prom, students have noted resistance from some peers and others who don’t feel the urge to make a fuss about changing so-called tradition.
The South, even as it has evolved (impressively so, in many cases), is rarely subtle or ambiguous when it comes to race. In other regions, folks like to say all the right things publicly, while acting another way in private.
Wilcox County is a reminder that even with the country’s first African American president, race relations are still a work in progress.
The county may be the last of the old South school districts still holding on to a dubious past. Six years ago, a high school in Charleston, Miss., held its first inclusive prom, reportedly funded by actor Morgan Freeman. A decade ago, a high school in Taylor County, Ga., held its first integrated prom. Guess we can call that progress.
With 187 employees, the Wilcox County school system is the county’s largest employer, serving 1,300 students. You sense from the school’s website that it takes umbrage at the prom controversy, making a point to state that the school itself does not host a prom. Instead, it states, “groups of students who host private parties have referred to the parties as their prom.”
“Instead of attacking our school system, its employees, and our community,” the statement reads “we ask for your support and prayers as we seek to right the wrongs of the past and be the adults our children look up to.”