Moderated by Rick Badie
Wilcox County High School will hold its first integrated prom Saturday. A group of bold seniors decided the time was right to merge separate black and white dances. Today, a Wilcox County businessman clears up what he says are inaccuracies around the issue, while the senior pastor of a landmark black church challenges Gov. Nathan Deal’s comments on the matter. Deal’s spokesman declined to submit an essay on the topic.
Governor, follow students’ example
By The Rev. Raphael Warnock
As they plan their very first integrated prom in the history of their rural Georgia County, the students of Wilcox County High School exemplify broad moral vision, strong leadership and real courage. The highest elected official of our great state, Gov. Nathan Deal, should follow their lead and finally offer a clear statement of support in word and deed for their initiative. So far, he has not.
When asked several weeks ago whether he would join other elected officials in the state who have voiced their support for an integrated prom, Deal made the questioner, rather than the obvious issue, the issue. Saying the governor had no comment, his spokesman lashed out, focusing more on politics than principle: “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.”
Then, late last week, Deal released a statement conceding the wrongheadedness of school-related events “based on race or gender or any other separation,” but seemed to want to have it both ways politically as he went on to say, “I think that people understand that some of these are just local issues and private issues, and not something that the state government needs to have its finger involved in.”
So, when dismissing the issue altogether as one stirred up by what defenders of segregation used to call “outside agitators” did not fly, the governor sought to confine it as a “local,” perhaps even a “private,” issue which, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, would surely be resolved if government and its duly elected leadership stayed out of it.
Deal needs to stop the unhelpful and unnecessary political dance and challenge outright rather than run cowardly away from the lingering ghosts of the South’s ugly racial past. Unlike many issues that confront us today, this one is very clear. Segregation is wrong, and proms masquerading as “private parties” should be a thing of the past.
Not long ago, I hosted Gov. Deal at Ebenezer Baptist Church as he stood in our sanctuary, signing into law a state commission charged with organizing the ways in which we would honor Ebenezer’s famous pastor and Georgia’s greatest son, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The signer of this historic legislation should ask himself, “What would Dr. King do?” King said that “silence is betrayal” and, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Does Gov. Deal want to stand in the moral legacy of King, or the Southern governors whom King had to confront? As the state’s leader, Deal should use his influence to champion the moral message of the children of Wilcox County as they teach a good lesson on the values of equality and inclusion. To do less provides a poor lesson for the rest of Georgia’s schoolchildren and casts a poor shadow over the state’s national and international image, suggesting that it has actually not learned much nor launched very far from its segregationist past.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The truth about Wilcox County
By Wayne McQuinty
Yes, it’s true. Wilcox County has two proms. Now that we have established that, fact let’s clear up some of the other “facts” that have been reported in various media outlets:
Wilcox County does not have, and has never had, two separate homecoming courts. Immediately after integration we, like many other counties, did have a black and a white queen, but that ended nearly 20 years ago.
No student has ever been forcibly removed by law enforcement from any Wilcox County prom. Most proms are not even held in our county due to lack of an adequate facility.
Students of African-American and Hispanic heritage have attended both proms in the past, and no student was denied the opportunity to purchase a ticket to either prom this year.
The posters for the integrated prom that were “ripped down” at the high school were taken down by a school employee because they were put up without permission. No prom has been allowed to put up posters at school because prom is a party, not a school function.
The truth is, Wilcox County has traditionally had two proms by choice — not coercion, personal preference, and not pressure. There has not been any attempt to block or prevent students from holding an integrated prom and, in fact, the community has supported both proms in the past by participating in student fundraisers. We’re certainly not perfect in Wilcox County, but we’re not as different from anyplace else as we have been portrayed in the media.
The Wilcox County integrated prom will be held in Crisp County this Saturday night in the middle of what will most likely be a media circus. There will be an event held in Wilcox County on Friday night that won’t have television cameras from Fox news, CNN or WSB. No reporters from the Toronto Star, New York Times or The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will be there.
This event will be held quietly by Wilcox County citizens, young and old, black and white, to combat a very real threat that has touched nearly every family in our county. The citizens of Wilcox County will gather at the recreation department once again for the annual Relay for Life to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Those who have conquered cancer will be recognized, those currently fighting cancer will be prayed for, and those who lost their battle to this dreaded disease will be remembered.
There will be hugs, prayers, conversation and lots of homemade food. This coming event, my fellow citizens of this great country of ours, is a true snapshot of Wilcox County, Georgia.
Wayne McGuinty is a Wilcox County businessman and City Council member in Rochelle, Ga.