Georgia high school makes final preparations for 1st integrated prom

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GEORGIA – Just days before a high school in rural Georgia holds its first ever racially integrated prom, the group of teens who organized it say they are anticipating a decent turnout and are hopeful the night will be a resounding success.

The high school seniors from Wilcox County High School have spent the past months working day and night to ensure the integrated prom becomes a reality.

Up until now, the county put on segregated prom nights and homecoming dances: one for black students and one exclusively for whites.

Since the events are not funded through the high school, but instead are privately financed by local supporters, it is legal to have separate, segregated, prom events.

A student stands up for integration

Seventeen-year-old Mareshia Rucker devised the idea of an integrated prom back in January 2012. Initially, she worked with two close friends until the Wilcox County Integrated Prom Committee flourished to a group of 10 racially mixed student organizers.

“I get along with everyone in my class,” said Rucker, who is president of the committee. “We do everything together so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t go to prom night together, which is one of the most important moments we’ll ever have in our school career.”

She adds, despite some local resistance, organizing the prom was a relatively low-key event until she started a Facebook page to help spread the word about the “Integrated Prom.”

Since then she said, “things have exploded.”

Support coming from near and far

“We are overwhelmed by the level of support, not just across the country, but as far afield as England and Australia,” she added.

Due to last-minute donations the committee has made several eleventh-hour adjustments to the prom, scheduled to take place on April 27, 2013.

“I’ve been flabbergasted that it’s gotten so big and so wide and everyone cares,” said Stephanie Sinnot, 18, who is white, and one of the core organizers. “I am shocked that there’s been so much support and people on our side.”

With the unexpected level of assistance, the high school seniors can now attend the integrated prom free of charge. Everyone else who attends has to pay $10 and, so far, they have sold around 100 tickets for the “Masquerade Ball in Paris” themed dance at the Crisp County Community Clubhouse in Cordele, Georgia.

The white prom event will still take place but the black prom will be now be racially integrated.

Racism runs deep

“Racism runs deep in our county,” said Rucker. “It’s as deep as trees have roots.

“We’ve had our fair share of criticism, snide remarks and ugly looks. But I know it comes with the territory.”

“What’s going on around is stupid,” said Sinnot. “I don’t see why we can’t have a prom together. I don’t see the difference in skin color. A person’s a person. A senior is a senior. That’s why I am doing what I am doing.”

Mareshia’s mom, Toni Rucker, believes it has taken so long because of “racism and tradition.” She adds, “Everyone knew their place in the community and accepted it being what it was and went along with it.”

“My understanding is that there’s been some talk [about having an integrated prom] but it never got off the ground,” said Rucker, who was raised in Wilcox and a neighboring county. She moved back to the county 10 years ago following time in Atlanta.

There has been a backlash

A biracial girl who attempted to attend the homecoming dance last October was asked to leave, according to Rucker. “They told her if she didn’t leave she’d be escorted off the premises by police.”

“There’s more resistance from the adults, I believe, and it has kind of rubbed off on the children. They are terrified to speak out and have a voice. The older adults are very adamant about not having an integrated prom,” she adds.

“It’s unfortunate but there’s been a backlash. They have lost friends. People have stopped talking to them and have had negative things to say.”

In response to the recent publicity, a statement posted on the school district’s website says the high school’s principal “will place the 2014 prom on its agenda for its next meeting.”

Wilcox County High School has 380 students, of whom 171 are African-American.

Toni Rucker said living in Rochelle, Wilcox County, Georgia, which is just under a three hour drive from downtown Atlanta, is like “stepping back in time” because of the attitudes of some local residents.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti