Georgia high school students unite to fight segregated prom

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Georgia students push for first racially integrated prom

A group of Georgia high school seniors has come together to organize a racially integrated prom, which will be the first of its kind in Wilcox County, Ga.

Almost 60 years after the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, students at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga., are attempting to tear down one of the last remaining vestiges of that time: segregated proms.

They have united to organize an integrated prom this year.

Wilcox County High School hasn't hosted a prom in 30 years. Instead, there have typically been two independent proms: one for white students, and one for non-white students. Neither is hosted or funded by the school. Instead, Wilcox parents sponsor both, using their own funds and money their children have raised.

Last year, a biracial student was turned away at the all-white prom.

"It's time for a change," one of the integrated prom's organizers, Quanesha Wallace, said. "It's hard for just one of us to up and do when it's been segregated for so many years, so we all decided to do it as one."

Wallace, who's African-American, was voted homecoming queen this year but attended a different dance than the king, who is Caucasian. As with proms in Wilcox County, parents fund and host homecoming dances as well, keeping the races segregated. Wallace said she was not invited to the white homecoming ceremony.

Wallace and fellow seniors Brandon Davis, Mareshia Rucker, Keela Bloodworth and Stephanie Sinnot have set the racially integrated prom for April 27. The organizers, who've been planning the event since their junior year, said it will have a "Paris masquerade ball" theme with Mardi Gras colors, replicas of the Eiffel Tower and Parisian masks.

Because neither Wilson County's high school nor its board of education funds any prom, the students raise money for expenses. As with past segregated proms, parents have chipped in, but most of the new prom's expenses have been covered by student-run fundraisers and online donations. The organizers held car washes, donut bake sales and door-to-door solicitation campaigns.

National media attention helped send a stream of money to their Integrated Prom Facebook page. While the founders would not say how much money they've raised, their page has received dozens of messages pledging financial support and hundreds more offering praise. It had 12,000 "likes" as of Thursday morning.

The organizers said support within their own community hasn't been easy to come by. Organizer Mareshia Rucker said door-to-door solicitations were met with resistance at Wilcox County businesses. Her team then headed out to surrounding counties to gather support and donations, where she said they had much greater success.

The organizers said some of their flyers have been torn down, and rumors cast about their event. 

"A lot of people said, 'That's crazy. Let's not change it,' "Wallace said. "I honestly think they're scared for this."

The integrated prom will cost $20 per person and $15 for seniors if they purchase advance tickets, but Wilcox students have been spreading rumors that the integrated prom is $75 — much more expensive than the white prom, which costs $20 for a single attendee and $35 for a couple.

The organizers said they'd like to receive more support, especially from school administrators. Steve J. Smith, Wilcox County's superintendent of schools, said in a statement that he and the Wilcox County Board of Education applauded the idea of an integrated prom when the students approached them about the idea. He said they passed a resolution "advocating that all activities involving our students be inclusive and non-discriminatory."

"I fully support these ladies, and I consider it an embarrassment to our schools and community that these events have been segregated," he wrote.

Smith placed blame on school parents. "Skin color seems to be a much larger issue for the adults than the students," he wrote.

The organizers, however, said Smith and the Board of Education fell short. They were glad the two passed the initial resolution, but said they would have liked both groups to have gone one step further and endorsed the integrated prom in name, which they did not.

"We want the school to take over the proms and we want to come together on this," Wallace said.

Smith did not immediately return requests for further comment.

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