See these four girls above? Two white, two black. They’re friends, good friends; been friends since the 4th grade. Nothing unusual about that, not in America, not in the 21st century… well, maybe, a little bit, in the deep south. In the state of Georgia. Because these four girls, close as they are, much as they do together, have not been able to do one particular thing as a group: dance together at a prom… ever. Their school hasn’t allowed it. Neither have their parents, their town, or their churches.
Which is odd, given that it was back in 1954, long before these girls were even born, that the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation as unconstitutional. But despite that rather monumental blow to the cause of racism, the people of Rochelle, Georgia have turned a blind eye; decided they knew best who their kids should hang out with, date, dance with. Which meant when Wilcox County High School in Rochelle was integrated in 1983 (why’d it take that long??), instead of allowing integrated proms, these high-minded folks did the next best thing: they shut down the prom all together. No school proms. Nuh uh. No way. Not if we have to integrate the damn thing.
Instead, parents organized “private dances” for their kids – called them proms, homecomings – but they made damn sure those dances were NOT integrated. Welcome to the pre-mid-20th century.
And it’s been that way ever since. In fact, last year a biracial student had the audacity to try to attend an “all white” prom and the parents in charge did exactly what you’d expect… in Rochelle: theycalled the police and turned the student away.
Somehow, in the midst of all this entrenched, regressive thinking, some of the students – young, accepting, and bravely color-blind in a segregated southern society – had had enough. They got organized, started with a Facebook page (aptly titled “Integrated Prom 2013″). Here’s their “About” section:
“We live in rural south Georgia, where not too many things change. Well, as a group of adamant high school seniors, we want to make a difference in our community. For the first time in the history of our county, we plan to have an integrated prom.”
And with that they got to work putting together their first EVER integrated prom, set for April 27. How easily they achieve their goal is yet to be seen but, so far, there have been some not unexpected bumps along the way. Though they’ve been raising money on their own, they’re getting no help from school officials, and other, less evolved, students have aggressive in their response to the idea:
“I actually put up posters for the integrated prom and we’ve had people ripping them down at the school,” Keela Bloodworth, one of the organizers of the integrated prom, told local news station WSFA. [The Raw Story]
And they tell us we’re a post-racial society.
Apparently there are a few who fit somewhere in the middle, somewhere between Keela and her band of progressives (Stephanie Sinnot, Mareshia Rucker and Quanesha Wallace) and the racial Neanderthals tearing down posters and/or calling the police on prom attendees. From RT.com:
This year, Wilcox High decided to elect only one pair of homecoming king and queen for the first time, despite there still being two racially segregated dances. But, according to Quanesha Wallace, who was elected homecoming queen this year, little changed as she was still not invited to the “White prom” – and thus the king and queen took separate pictures for the school’s yearbook.
“White prom.” Kinda makes you feel all queasy and regressive inside, doesn’t it? The Integrated Prom girls find it “embarrassing.” Too bad their town, their parents, and their teachers don’t as well.
But not easily dissuaded, the girls are forging ahead despite the setbacks and lack of support… though they are inspired to some cynicism from time to time. From WSAV:
“We need to stick with the tradition,” Quanesha said mockingly. “This is a traditional thing we don’t need to change and stuff like that, but why? No one can answer my question.
“Exactly,” responded Keela. “They think nothing’s broken so don’t fix it.”
So while the girls do try to “fix it,” the school, in a head-shaking move of sheer and unabashed social cowardice, “resolved” the issue this way:
There will still be two proms this year. Neither proms are financed by or allowed to take place at Wilcox County High School. The students said that when they pushed for one prom, the school offered a resolution to permit an integrated prom that would allow all students to attend but not stop segregated proms. [Source]
Someone in Rochelle will likely be throwing a “White prom” to keep with tradition and a continued disregard for the Constitution, but Keela, Stephanie, Mareshia and Quanesha are going to get dressed up, invite all their friends – race, creed or color notwithstanding – and throw a good old fashioned, all-inclusive prom. And as they do, they’ll be dragging their community, clearly kicking and screaming, somewhere closer to the 21st century. Let’s hope they get them there some day. Until then, the girls are moving in the right direction. As Keela put it:
“If we don’t change it, nobody else will.”