Thursday, April 12, 2007

Still working on integration

Almost 53 years after Brown v. Board of Education, a Georgia school is finally integrating its prom:
Breaking from tradition, high school students in this small town are getting together for this year’s prom.

Prom night at Turner County High has long been an evening of de facto segregation: white students organized their own unofficial prom, while black students did the same.

This year's group of seniors didn't want that legacy. When the four senior class officers — two whites and two blacks — met with Principal Chad Stone at the start of the school year, they had more on their minds than changes to the school’s dress code.

They wanted an all-school prom. They wanted everyone invited.

On April 21, they'll have their wish. The town's auditorium will be transformed into a tropical scene, and for the first time, every junior and senior, regardless of race, will be invited.


Students say the self-segregation that splits social circles in school mirrors the attitude of this town of 4,000 people. So getting every student to break from the past could be a difficult task.

With prom night about two weeks away, only half of the 160 upper-class students have bought tickets. And there’s talk around the school that some white students might throw a competing party at a nearby lake.

"Everyone is saying they're not going to the school prom," said Steven Tuller, a 17-year-old white junior who doesn't plan to attend either event because he wants to wait until he's a senior. "They're saying it's tradition."

Yet Turner County High already has defied tradition this year. The school abandoned its practice of naming separate white and black homecoming queens. Instead, a mixed-race student was named the county’s first solo homecoming queen.


[Keith Massey, a 1990 graduate] recalls an attempt to integrate one of the prom parties when he was in school, but few whites showed up. Attempts to organize a school-wide prom in recent years failed because of a lack of student support.

This is a repeat of what happened five years ago at another Georgia school. From the April 20, 2002 Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Nexis):
After three decades of dual proms segregated by skin color, the juniors and seniors at the 420 student Taylor County High School have pasted that tradition into somebody else's scrapbook. When the unified prom starts up on May 3, Taylor County will become one of the last places in Georgia to drop this practice.

"Everybody finally decided to grow up," said Gerica McCrary, one of the student leaders in the effort to unify the prom.

Amber Williams, McCrary's white counterpart, said the student prom planners questioned the thinking behind the practice that had been part of school-year-ending celebrations ever since the county schools were integrated in the early 1970s.

"Why is it that we can't dance with each other?" she said the students started wondering.


In December, members of separate prom planning committees put their heads together.

"Everybody thought it was just kind of crazy," said Darcel Loyd, a planning committee member.

"To me, it was embarrassing," said Quantanya Hollis, a prom committee member. They put the prom unification proposal to a vote of the school's 94 seniors and 95 juniors, and it carried by better than 2 to 1.

At first, some resisted in the school that is 55 percent black and 45 percent white.

"A lot of people got mad at me," Williams said, adding that she received a few anonymous phone threats.

Once the students on the two planning committees started working together, the opposition seemed to die out, she said.

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