Segregated Proms: An Ongoing Controversy in Georgia
We examine recent efforts by students to overturn the longstanding tradition of segregated proms in many areas of the state, and why the effort still faces challenges today.
Prom is a rite of passage for many high school students; a chance to celebrate with friends before everyone heads in different directions after graduation. For students at some Georgia high schools, the evening celebrations were restricted according to the color of a student’s skin. Segregated proms have been going on in some areas of Georgia for decades, since the schools backed out of sponsoring the events. In the hands of parents and students, proms have become an “invitation only” event, with black students hosting one party and white students hosting another.
Change is in the Air
This year, four students at Wilcox County High School decided it was time for a change. The female students, two white and two black, have decided it is time for their school to have an integrated prom. The students created an Integrated Prom Facebook page, where they wrote, “We live in rural south Georgia, where not too many things change. Well, as a group of adamant high school seniors, we want to make a difference in our community. For the first time in the history of our county, we plan to have an integrated prom.”
The four friends began their campaign when they decided they all wanted to be able to enjoy their senior prom together. One of the girls, Quanesha Wallace, had been elected homecoming queen for her school in the fall. However, she was unable to attend the white homecoming dance, since she is a black student. Instead, Wallace enjoyed her royal status at the first integrated homecoming dance the school ever hosted. Still, the snub by some of her white classmates “saddened her heart,” according to the Lawrenceville Patch.
Wallace teamed up with three of her classmates and friends; Stephanie Sinnot, Mareshia Rucker and Keela Bloodworth, to launch the integrated prom campaign. The girls did not realize their efforts would soon grab national headlines, and the support of many political figures in Georgia. They have also received financial support to host the first integrated prom Wilcox County High School has ever seen.
The History of Proms in Georgia
Proms stopped being held in Georgia high schools during the 1960s and 1970s, when desegregation was in full swing. At that time, high schools stopped throwing the year-end dances out of concern for racial unrest that could rear its ugly head at such an occasion. This led to the holding of proms outside school jurisdiction, and the parties were hosted by parents and students instead. This move led to the idea of a white prom and a black prom, a tradition that has been going on for those many decades.
Wilcox County is not the only Georgia hotspot for the segregation issue. Both Turner County High School and Montgomery County High School recently changed their policies to host integrated proms as well, according to the International Business Times. Now, some of the students at Wilcox County High School would like to follow suit. But the campaign is not without plenty of controversy – some of it coming from high up the political ladder.
Opposition to the Plan
One of the most outspoken critics of the girls’ plan is Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Forbes reports that Governor Deal has shown no public support for the integrated prom campaign. In fact, when Deal was questioned about the movement, he stated he would not take side in the matter, according to Forbes.
Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, issued a statement saying, “This is a leftist front group for the state Democratic Party and we’re not going to lend a hand to their silly publicity stunt.”
Robinson was referring to Better Georgia, a leftist organization that urged the governor and other state lawmakers to support the girls’ campaign. A few days later, Robinson released another statement regarding the issue, saying Governor Deal “expects and trusts that local leaders will find a long-term solution that protects the equal rights of all students, regardless of race or ethnic background.”
Support from the Right
Republican Melvin Everson, executive director of the Georgia Commission for Equal Opportunity, has come out in public support of the girls’ campaign. Everson wrote on his Facebook page, “I have spoken to many leaders in Wilcox and they very much want one single prom for all students…I am willing to help fund one single prom for all students that will be an evening to remember. I call upon all those from Wilcox to help make this a reality.”
A number of public officials in Georgia have followed Everson’s lead and given public support to the integrated prom efforts as well. Better Georgia has listed a number of these officials, which includes a nearly equal number of Republicans and Democrats in the state. The Georgia chapter for the NAACP has also lent their support to efforts to have a school-sponsored, integrated prom at Wilcox County High School in 2014.
The efforts by these four Wilcox County seniors have resulted in enough sponsors to hold an integrated prom this month. The integrated prom will take place one week after the “all white” prom, which will still be held as well. According to the Monroe Patch, half the high school voted to attend the “white only” prom, while the rest of the students will be heading to the integrated prom. In addition, administrators from Wilcox County High School plan to meet soon to determine whether they should host a school-sponsored, integrated prom next year.
The integrated prom campaign is a shining example of what can happen when students band together to make a difference in their schools and communities. Sinnot summed it up perfectly in her statement to the International Business News, “We are all friends. It’s just kind of not right that we can’t all go to prom together.”
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