A reader of the segregated prom blog sent me a note about something that DeKalb school chief Michael Thurmond referenced in a recent speech, racially segregated class reunions.
Thurmond said that his high school graduating class — he attended high school in Athens and was among the first black students to attend high school with white students — holds two reunions divided by race. “We have come a long way. But we have a long way to go,” he said.
Like racially segregated proms, these reunion events are not officially sponsored or organized by the high schools, so the guest list can be selective if the organizers so desire.
And apparently, sometimes organizers do limit who’s included in the planning and notifications. A friend went to her high school reunion in South Carolina. She, too, graduated in one of the first integrated classes and expected to see both black and white classmates at the reunion.
But only white students were there. When she asked one of the organizers about the disparity, two reasons were offered: Some black graduates could not be found. Those who were found declined to attend. My friend learned later that a black classmate who should have been easy to find — she was an attorney in South Carolina — never received an invitation.
Reader Tony Lowe shares his experience:
Thank you Maureen Downey for your article “In black and white: Segregated proms continue” that was published in the AJC. Although I did not have this experience at my small high school in Hogansville, Ga., more than 25 years ago, I was shocked to first learn about segregated proms from college classmates in Louisiana. This appalled me then and saddens me now.
Nevertheless, I would like to turn your attention to a “kissing cousin” of the segregated proms –- segregated high school reunions. Many of these otherwise joyous events are organized as racially segregated affairs. Sadly enough, I went through such a process for my high school’s 20th reunion.
Organizing class members put out a call for all interested alumni to meet and bring ideas to plan our reunion. I looked forward to meeting with some of my old classmates and made an effort to attend the first planning session.
Graduating in a class that had almost a 50-50 split of black and white students, I was the only person of color among the seven people who showed up for the planning session. Still, the seven of us represented about a tenth of total class size.
I arrived with my own ideas and some from other class members who could not attend, but it quickly became obvious to me that our “first meeting” was not the committee’s first meeting. In fact, they had already decided on a time, place and even had information about a DJ — the works.
No one appeared interested in soliciting bids for different dates, venues, catering or the DJs. Efforts were made to placate me, but it was obvious that their original plan was the only plan. I later advised them that I would not be taking part in their event, but continued to communicate with some committee members. Some members communicated that they agreed with me, but went along with the group.
In response, I proceeded to solicit interested class members regarding another reunion event that same year, which we tried to schedule at a more convenient time so we could draw more attendees. I notified every person on the other committee of my plan and invited them to participate. Then, I was later accused of planning a racially segregated function by one peer in an email.
In defending myself against these claims, I pointed out that our second committee had: (1) placed all notices in the local newspaper inviting all members of the class to participate in the planning (2) held every meeting in a public place (3) elected event officers (4) solicited multiple bids for the venue, caterer, DJ, & photographer (5) opened a checking account and (6) used the event to support a local Boys & Girls Club.
The other committee members could not say that they had done any of these things. In fact, their affair was a racially segregated function held on private property.
The reunion organized by the broader group was a racially integrated function held at a local hotel during the town’s annual Humming Bird Festival – School Reunion weekend. So, I would encourage all to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and help Georgia and the South move forward.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog