Feature

Why is a Georgia high school allowed to have segregated proms?

Students in Wilcox County are trying to organize the school's first integrated prom

A group of four teenage girls in Rochelle, Ga., are raising money to hold an integrated prom. Which raises the question, "What year is this?"

Yes, in 2013, students at Wilcox County High School will have to choose between two racially segregated proms. How segregated are we talking about? Student Ethan Roundtree tells 41NBC that "if you're an African-American and you show up to the white prom, you'll probably get asked to leave."

In fact, just last year a biracial student was turned away from one of the proms by police, according to WSAV. In the understatement of the year, the four girls behind the idea for an integrated prom — Stephanie Sinnot, Mareshia Rucker, Quanesha Wallace, and Keela Bloodworth — call the tradition of segregated proms "embarrassing."

Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains why they are allowed to exist:

It happens because the proms are not officially school events, although a great deal of promoting and planning by students occurs within schools. Since the proms are private parties held off campus without any school funds, schools disavow any control over the events, which are organized by parents and students and reflect historic and lingering racial divides. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

In other words, it's the community that has maintained this tradition. And many are vehement about keeping things the way they are. "I put up posters for the 'Integrated Prom' and we've had people ripping them down at the school," Bloodworth told WSAV.

The New York Times reported on segregated proms in Montgomery County — located a little more than 60 miles from Wilcox County — in 2009. Back then, several of the students blamed the situation on parents not willing to let go of the past:

"Most of the students do want to have a prom together," says Terra Fountain, a white 18-year-old who graduated from Montgomery County High School last year and is now living with her black boyfriend. "But it's the white parents who say no… They're like, if you’re going with the black people, I’m not going to pay for it." [New York Times]

Families in Wilcox County started the practice of holding independent proms after the schools were integrated decades ago. Steve J. Smith, superintendent of Wilcox County Schools, said on the district's Facebook page, "I fully support these ladies, and I consider it an embarrassment to our schools and community that these events have portrayed us as bigoted in any way." 

Because it's not an official school event, Wilcox County High School hasn't been able to sponsor the integrated dance. Instead, the four girls have turned to raising money on Facebook

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