GEORGIA – On Saturday, a group of high school seniors in a sleepy town in rural Georgia made history.
Despite resistance from many white residents, students from Wilcox County High School attended their county’s first ever racially-integrated prom.
Up to now, the county has put on segregated prom nights and homecoming dances: one for black students and one exclusively for whites.
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Since the events are not paid for through the high school, but instead are privately funded by local supporters, it is legal to have separate, segregated, prom events.
Tearing down racial barriers
In fact, this long-standing tradition would probably have lingered if not for the vision of Mareshia Rucker, 17, who was determined to pave the way to tear down racial barriers.
Initially, Rucker worked with two close friends until the Wilcox County Integrated Prom Committee grew to a 10-strong group of racially-mixed student organizers.
The event, however, was inadvertently thrust into the national spotlight following the launch, in early April, of the “Integrated Prom” Facebook page to raise donations for the prom. With the Facebook page (which now has more than 27,000 fans) donations to pay for the event poured in from across the nation.
“It has made a lot of people realize that if you stand up for what’s right then nothing but positivity will come out of it,” says Rucker.
Not “about race or racism”
Referring to Saturday nights prom she adds, “It was wonderful. I was completely amazed. Everyone had fun. Initially I was worried about how many people would come but the turnout was better than expected.”
In fact, the integrated prom, at a community center in nearby Cordele, had the feel of a celebrity style event. The 10-strong committee stepped out of their limo onto the red carpet, takeaway gift bags were handed out to every couple and professional disc jockeys keep the students grooving.
“It’s one class so there should be one prom,” said Ethan Rountree, 18, who is white, and also on the committee. “It shouldn’t be about race or racism. We’ve just a group of seniors who want to spend their last year and last moments together as one body.”
All-white prom still took place
Still, the all-white prom took place two weeks ago. None of the black students at Wilcox County High School were invited.
Rucker also says she is disappointed, that, although the committee sent out invites to all the officials at Wilcox County High School, only two bothered to attend. Assistant principal Kenneth Daniels and Raymond Johnson, a member of the school board, were the only officials who came and are also the only African-American staff members at the school.
However, 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 is the only high school in the county. It has 380 students, of whom 171 are African-American.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti