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One more integrated prom
April 29, 2013 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Wilcox County High School is a small, rural school, located three hours south of Atlanta. Recently, in a school district that serves some 1,300 students in total. The high school has been in the news for it's continued tradition of holding segregated proms, and for the efforts of some of the local students to raise funds to hold the first officially integrated prom in the community's history. Though, most students were welcome to the "black prom," the first officially integrated prom happened this past Saturday. So many donors came forward, from around the world, that the students say they have money left over to help local families in need. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean an end to the community's history of segregated proms, as the "white prom" was still held, but a week earlier in Fitzgerald, Georgia, less than 10 miles south of the Wilcox County border.

The history of segregated proms goes back to the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Some schools opted to not hold their own proms, instead allowing the communities to hold their own events, bypassing any laws against segregation. This practice has slowly been dying out. In 1997, Morgan Freeman offered to fund a racially integrated prom in his hometown of Charleston, Mississippi, but the community declined. A decade later, he made the same offer, and they accepted. That first integrated prom was documented in Prom Night in Mississippi. In 2002, Taylor County, Georgia, held its first integrated prom, only to have some white students hold another segregated event the next year. The U.S. Department of Justice stepped in to desegregate the high school's voting for "senior favorites" based on race, and such scrutiny lead to a school-sponsored integrated prom. 2004 saw a third prom in Toobs County, Georgia, where some Hispanic students threw their own prom, adding to the prior black and white proms, further separating the 769 students of Toombs County High School. In 2009, Montgomery County High School in Georgia received news coverage for their segregated prom, and the next year, parents put on the school's first integrated prom.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was asked by the progressive group, Better Georgia, to join seven Georgia state representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, in supporting the students' efforts. The first response came on April 11th from the Governor's spokesman, Brian Robinson, who wrote, "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," which overlooks the fact that the effort was put forth from the students, and they had raised enough funding for their integrated prom back on April 5th. Some Wilcox County High School students said that this was "political suicide," as he offended a bunch of young people who could vote against him in the next election. A later comment from Robinson was a bit more polite and political, stating that "the governor 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." These statements, and the other "facts" mentioned in news coverage of Wilcox County High's proms were discussed in two opinion pieces, first by Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was not comforted by Robinson's comments, and the second by a Wilcox County businessman, Wayne McQuinty, who pointed out the multicultural gathering to be held at the Wilcox County Relay for Life event. In an news article from April 6th, it was reported that the Wilcox County Board of Education and the Superintendent to discuss their plans for hosting an integrated prom. The Board and Superintendent not only applauded the idea, but passed a resolution requesting that all activities involving WCS students be inclusive and non-discriminatory. The Wilcox County School System is now considering sponsoring an integrated prom in 2014.
posted by filthy light thief (29 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Prior posts on segregated proms: visual journalism, covering A Prom Divided, and the civics of history (with a dead news link)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:29 PM on April 29, 2013


Sometimes I can't wait for this generation of politicians to leave office and the next generation to take up the torch. These so called leaders need to show genuine leadership rather than just looking forward to the next election.
posted by arcticseal at 8:59 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


My fear is that the next generation of pols has been hand-picked for their assholery. Please say it ain't so.

Why is it for every step forward, you look back and realize that we're so often in the same old place?

Somedays MeFi is so depressing I'd leave and never come back--except for the cats and capybara.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:11 PM on April 29, 2013


That response from the governor just makes me despair for humanity. Way to fucking make it into a shitty little political issue instead of letting it be about the kids collaborating to put together something inclusive and good.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:17 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


How much of a loon do you have to be these days to characterise an integrated prom as a leftist conspiracy? What, is he running on the pro-slavery ticket next election or something?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:30 PM on April 29, 2013 [22 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts, apparently the question was posed to him by a liberal political group. I heard the quote completely without context and was floored, but knowing it came from a group that could be classified as a "leftist front group for the Democratic party" makes the response a bit less insane. Well, ignoring the fact that "leftist front group" makes the group sound more like an armed organization and less like people lobbying against charter schools. And integrated proms don't sound like a "silly publicity stunt."

OK, he still sounds like a loony jackass.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:34 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


BlueHorse: “Somedays MeFi is so depressing I'd leave and never come back--except for the cats and capybara.”

Sometimes America is very depressing, yes – and the world in general. But I have to say that filthy light thief is one of Metafilter's brightest and best, and this post is one of the best I've ever seen here; it pretty much constitutes a piece of journalism, and it's certainly a lot more thorough and thoughtful than any similar roundup I've read. It makes Metafilter a better place by being here. And it's important that this work is done, too; the more we know about this, the more people are aware of it, the sooner it will die off, and the more we can mobilize against it.

So: thanks, filthy light thief. This is pretty excellent, and while it's depressing it makes me happy to know that people are out there researching it and keeping it in the public mind.
posted by koeselitz at 9:35 PM on April 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


America can still surprise me. Officially segregated proms? If you asked me to put a date on when that stopped I would have said 1970 at the latest. Lordy.

Also, dude is a total asshole, it's like, "Oh yeah, those sneak leftists fronts, trying to trick me into supporting equality."
posted by smoke at 9:37 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, koeselitz. I just wanted to put this round of excited news coverage into context. This isn't the last school to hold private, segregated proms, but every time there's another integrated prom, it's another move towards a better society. Politics are scared to lose their power, so they cater to the rich and the noisy, ignoring their constituents. Politicians make me wary. People make me hopeful.

smoke, they're not so much "officially segregated," as they are private parties that everyone knows are the formal events for the school. It's a super-shady way of side-stepping government regulations to put an end to segregation in schools. Schools can say "hey, they're private parties, we have no say in what they do," ignoring the fact they can take a public role and decry the segregation, and host their own prom events, like much of the rest of the US.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:41 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


smoke, they're not so much "officially segregated," as they are private parties that everyone knows are the formal events for the school.

This is really hard to get my head around, that schools and school kids are so marinated in racism that they can do this without a second thought.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:51 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Disc jockeys from Texas and Atlanta volunteered to play music, a motivational speaker from Florida is delivering a speech, and photographers from New York and Savannah are taking pictures, all without cost. In response, the Wilcox County school board plans to vote this spring on making future proms official school events, which would prohibit racial segregation.
How is this even close to legal?
posted by deathpanels at 10:00 PM on April 29, 2013


Bravo, Students! Well done! Every once in awhile there's a bright light in the darkness, and you kids are shining today! Fifty years after the civil rights movement of the 60s, there are still places where racism is the foundation of the community and it takes just as much courage to stand against it today as it did in the 60s - and in the 1860s, for that matter.

I'm so proud of you.
posted by aryma at 10:46 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


there are still places where racism is the foundation of the community and it takes just as much courage to stand against it today as it did in the 60s - and in the 1860s, for that matter.

I feel this somewhat underestimates the risk of lynching hitherto.
posted by jaduncan at 10:49 PM on April 29, 2013


And yet, sometime in the next year or two, based on public statements, the Supreme Court will almost undoubtedly rule 5-4 that states like Georgia no longer demonstrate any animus towards minorities and will overturn large parts of the Voting Rights Act. The fact that this will come within a year or two of the first time that black voter turnout was higher than whites in response to a record number of explicitly and implicitly racist voting laws (many of which were blocked by the DOJ due to the VRA) will of course be dismissed as pure coincidence.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:16 AM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


How much of a loon do you have to be these days to characterise an integrated prom as a leftist conspiracy?

The integrated prom in Wilcox turned to Facebook to do fundraising for their prom. I was one of those who donated. I'm sure the fact that a bunch of northerners (some from New York City) donated is being perceived as evidence of a "leftist conspiracy".

Don't care - I get to see some of the pictures.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 AM on April 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


As for the kids, lots of times they are not the ones funding their own segregated private proms, and the "tradition" is pushed by their parents. Not that many of them don't buy into it, but obviously the trend is moving away from it.
posted by emjaybee at 4:19 AM on April 30, 2013


Where was the White-only prom held? Who provided the catering?

Anybody who supported that thing deserves to be named, shamed, and boycotted.
posted by schmod at 6:15 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would like to first and foremost really applaud this post overall - well thought out and referenced, bravo!

That said: I'm not sure how I feel about the black couple/white couple senior favorites thing. I can see where it might have actually begun as a way to ensure equality - if the next four senior favorites are all white, for example, I'm not sure it's actually helping that much.
posted by corb at 6:34 AM on April 30, 2013


schmod, I have never lived in a small, rural, southern town, but given that the parents are the ones who set up and fund these proms, and there are kids who go to the "white prom" because they fear their racist parents will be furious if they go to the integrated prom, I don't think the caterers would be hurting for patrons, and boycotts could force divides. Get rid of the "white only" proms, and then no one caters to them. And the "white prom" was held outside of the county, so it could have been booked and organized as a private party, and the catering company was not intending to support the divided prom.

corb, it's treading towards/into "separate but equal" territory. From what I've read, the schools are split fairly evenly, so I don't think there's really a concern of the favorites always being white.

And I realized I left out one link: here are the editorials from Rev. Raphael Warnock and local businessman Wayne McQuinty.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:57 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the "white prom" was held outside of the county, so it could have been booked and organized as a private party, and the catering company was not intending to support the divided prom.

Actually, that's a real question - how do you even identify it to stop it from just random private party? (Also, I'm really curious on the logistics of this. Do they have the names of all the white students? If so, who in the school gives them to them? Is there more handshaking going on behind the scenes than is readily apparent?)
posted by corb at 7:21 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


They were covering this on CBC yesterday and one of the interviewees said that some of the cemetaries in or around Wilcox are still segregated. Anyone know if it's true that new internments are seperated by race? If so how is that even vaguely legal?
posted by Mitheral at 8:05 AM on April 30, 2013


Sometimes I can't wait for this generation of politicians to leave office and the next generation to take up the torch. These so called leaders need to show genuine leadership rather than just looking forward to the next election.
posted by arcticseal at 11:59 PM on April 29 [+] [!]


Except that that next generation is the one currently holding segregated proms. YMMV.
posted by Gungho at 9:09 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb in this case, it is a school with less than a 1000 students. I went to a small school, and everyone pretty much knew everyone else. 90% of us had been in middle school together and most of the kids who attended my elementary school also attended my highschool. After 12+ years together most people knew most everyone else by name/face at least.
posted by Librarygeek at 9:40 AM on April 30, 2013


Mitheral, I was imagining that cemeteries are private property, but at lest in Texas, there are segregated, public cemeteries.


Except that that next generation is the one currently holding segregated proms.

The next generation aren't the ones literally paying for the segregated proms, it's their parents. The prior generation is still playing a pretty strong roll.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:11 AM on April 30, 2013


That cemetary link is kind of creepy. Isn't there another way to desegregate cemetaries rather than playing games with secret burials of bodies and threatening to dig them up again? Can't people just, you know..get a federal order or something? Also, thinking God sends victims to their grisly murders in order to screw about with where they're buried is just...I don't even.
posted by corb at 10:35 AM on April 30, 2013


I know. That story is a rabbit hole of discussions on humanity all its own. I was looking for any information on segregated cemeteries when I came across it.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2013


Cemeteries being private property doesn't seem to be an out. Just because a lunch counter/hotel/gym/furniture store is private propery doesn't give the owners the right to segregate customers. There must be lots of residents of one state that end up being buried in other states thereby invoking the commerce clause.
posted by Mitheral at 1:50 PM on April 30, 2013


Justification for still doing this (beyond the fact they've always done it, and so obviously could never change) seems to be:

"White residents said members of the two races had different tastes in music and dancing"

I can't really imagine a world where school proms, official or unofficial, managed to cater to the students music or dancing tastes. Once parent organisers get involved it's destined to be lame. Maybe small town Georgia is the exception?
posted by leo_r at 2:39 PM on April 30, 2013


I can't really imagine a world where school proms, official or unofficial, managed to cater to the students music or dancing tastes

Actually, if they say that's what it is, then they should be held to it. "This is the no-hip-hop prom. ANYONE can come in, but no hip-hop will be played. That, over there, is the no-bland-pop-music prom. ANYONE can come in, but no music from emaciated teenyboppers will be played."

That would actually be legitimate IF it was what it was. But since it seems that it's only the "black" proms which are "anyone who shows up can come", it appears it's not even that.
posted by corb at 1:56 AM on May 1, 2013


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