Wilcox school chief applauds student effort to integrate proms, but stresses that these aren’t school events

downeyart (Medium)Wilcox County Schools finds itself in the unflattering eye of a social media storm after reports of its segregated proms — a vestige of 1970s integration when many high schools stopped sponsoring proms and it fell to parents to organize the dances  –  hit the newspapers, TV stations and Facebook.

The south Georgia school system is now addressing the surge in media attention, correcting a few misconceptions. Namely, that it sponsors these black and white proms.

In a general statement, Wilcox Superintendent Steven Smith said:

A recent article stated that Wilcox County High School is hosting its first integrated prom. Unfortunately, the article failed to provide all of the relevant facts related to proms in Wilcox County. Wilcox County High School has never hosted a school-sponsored prom.

In recent history, there have been two private parties that have been referred to as their  “proms” by two different groups of students. When the ladies mentioned in the article approached the Wilcox County Board of Education and me about hosting an integrated “prom,” we not only applauded their idea, but we also 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 portrayed us as bigoted in any way. I understand there to be many issues surrounding these parties that have nothing to do with skin color. Skin color seems to be a much larger issue for the adults than the students, and my prayer is that this effort will be a huge step toward reconciling the wrongs of the past.

As I tried to make clear in my first blog on Wilcox County’s two proms, many small-town Southern high schools got out of the prom business after integration, in part because white parents didn’t want race mixing at social events and in part because districts feared proms would rekindle the resentments and tensions that accompanied the merging of black and white schools.

So, proms in some towns became parent-sponsored and divided on racial lines. In many places, there was a white prom and a black prom.

For the most part, that’s history now. Although not everywhere.

In the last few years, two Georgia counties have moved away from segregated proms, Turner and Montgomery, both of which are in the same area of the state as Wilcox.  I talked to the superintendent of Montgomery County Schools Monday afternoon to learn more about how the change happened there and will share that interview later this week.

Montgomery has had unified private proms for two years now, but is about to hold its first school sponsored prom.  (Students were leery of a school-sponsored prom because they feared more rules with teachers chaperoning rather than parents, but a new principal won them over to the idea this year.)

My AJC colleague Greg Bluestein wrote about Turner County’s first integrated prom in 2007. (He was writing for the AP then.)

He wrote:

Still, traditions die hard. Only about two-thirds of the school’s 160 upper-class students purchased tickets for the prom, blacks still easily outnumbered whites at the dance, and many whites still attended their own private party a week earlier.

“Last weekend was more like tradition. It wasn’t racist, or prejudice,” said a white senior who attended both parties. “This weekend is about the whole school getting together and having a party.”

A unified prom doesn’t eliminate other prom-like events by parents. I’m not sure what schools can do to stop parents from holding “white-only” parties for graduates under the guise of  “tradition.”

Nor can schools that decide to get back into the prom business force students to go.

I chaperoned a high school dance once where more teens were outside than inside because the buzz was that the dance was going to be “lame.”  If white kids think a party at someone’s lake house is going to outdo the prom, there’s not much a school can do to compel attendance.

Some of you contend that school districts acquiesce to segregation by deferring to parents on prom sponsorship. But you have to remember that many of these school districts have been out of the prom business for 40 years.

A metro Atlanta teacher who coordinates her school’s prom tells me it’s a giant headache, starting with chasing down the class dues to pay for the gala to worrying about teens getting drunk on prom night and hurting themselves or others. And there’s the annual hunt for the perfect venue to hold the prom, which, in the frantic Atlanta prom season, can be a bloodsport.

So, I understand the reluctance of districts struggling with soaring deficits and low test scores to take on the responsibility for throwing a prom that’s cool enough to woo kids away from lake parties.

But I’m not sure schools have any choice if the private proms in their communities are de facto segregated events.

That apparently is the thinking now in Wilcox, based on this information that Superintendent Smith has added to the district website:

Wilcox County High School is much like any other high school, where the homecoming king and queen are chosen by popular vote (and are allowed to have their picture made together, despite published reports to the contrary!). Most discipline problems relate to tardies and matters of the heart, and students see skin color through their parents’ eyes.

At WCHS, approximately one in four students participates in Army JROTC, and for more than a quarter of a century, cadets of all races and economic status have participated in the Annual Ball. The Ball allows parents to share a meal with the cadets, girls in their prom dresses and guys in their Dress Greens where many are recognized for their accomplishments. After the awards ceremony, a DJ (this year’s was a popular high school science teacher) plays music and the students dance the night away.

Recently, the high school has received some negative publicity for hosting segregated proms, but that is simply not true. The high school does not host a prom at all, and groups of students who host private parties have referred to the parties as their proms. The school system has no influence over private parties, but we are encouraged by recent events.

Earlier in this school year, a group of ladies {four high school students} approached the Wilcox County Board of Education and the Superintendent to discuss their plans for hosting an “integrated prom.”  The Board and Superintendent not only applauded the idea, but passed a resolution requesting that all activities involving WCS students be inclusive and non-discriminatory.

We support the efforts of these ladies, and we praise their efforts to bring our students together.

I am pleased to report that WCHS Principal Chad Davis has stated that his Leadership Team will place the 2014 Prom on its agenda for its next meeting.

Instead of attacking our school system, its employees, and our community, we ask for your support and prayers as we seek to right the wrongs of the past and be the adults our children look up to.

With less than 30 school days left in this school year, our teachers and staff will be concentrating on helping our students prepare for state standardized tests. We congratulate our Class of 2013, and we are doing our best to make sure they are fully prepared for college and/or a career.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

123 comments Add your comment

Bernie

April 9th, 2013
12:36 am

What Wilcox Superintendent Steven Smith is really saying is “Hey, This is NOT our Fault! We had no interest in upseting the Apple Cart.” This is how its always been and we were perfectly content to let it operate as it always has.

However, being the KIDS have embarrassed us throughout the NATION as BIGOTS. We are NOW, going to step forward and encourage the change we should have embraced years ago.

calvin mckinley

April 9th, 2013
12:38 am

I read this article and what was done was not an excuse, but was a coward way out from doing the right thing, so don’t tell me about being the adult in this situations.

Bernie

April 9th, 2013
12:39 am

correction:

What Wilcox Superintendent Steven Smith is really saying is “Hey, This is NOT our Fault! We had no interest in upsetting the Apple Cart.” This is how its always been and we were perfectly content to let it operate as it always has.

However, being the KIDS have embarrassed us throughout the NATION as BIGOTS. We are NOW, going to step forward and encourage the change we should have embraced years ago.

Private Citizen

April 9th, 2013
5:03 am

I don’t want to be a jerk, but I am more concerned about my local beat-down colleagues, the weird heavy-hand management styles, and the real effects on teachers’ lives as working adult professionals who find themselves being treated as disposable dross with no identity. Lation (the L word!) black, white, or Chinese proms, parties, dances, beauty pageants is fine with me as long as no one is getting hurt. Adults get hurt by bad management. What is good management? What is bad management? Who are these weird “rovers” in school districts who have $100k salaries and change job titles like costumes? Does AdvancEd regulate any of this? What do they regulate? Yes, I want to see a list of what they regulate.

GUTRAKE

April 9th, 2013
5:57 am

My God, there are countless other things for us to be concerned with in our world. Liberals must be running out of things to corrupt,so they persecute people who want to be left alone. Their “AMERIKKA” will be an awful place when they’re finished. It’s so sad.

Lee

April 9th, 2013
5:58 am

Superintendent Smith said all the politically correct things expected of him to keep his job. There were a few snippits:

“I understand there to be many issues surrounding these parties that have nothing to do with skin color.”

Issues that the politically correct news media doesn’t want to hear. It doesn’t fit with their agenda.
———————————————————————

In a few years, these two white girls who allowed themselves to be used as politically correct pawns will probably go off to college, where their black classmates will be given preference of admission based solely on race. They will then enter the work force where employers will give preference to their black classmates in some arbitrary “diversity inititative”, which is fancy talk for affirmative action – again, based solely on race.

Maybe then, they will realize the folly of their actions.

mountain man

April 9th, 2013
6:46 am

The bigger truth is that School systems quit sponsoring their official prom because of integration, so then “private parties” could arise which were segregated. The answer is to bring back the official prom, no matter how well attended. Attendance will grow as kids get over the racial divide (that may take a while – as parents are driving it).

Ben

April 9th, 2013
6:52 am

Why this push for integration to force people to socialize with each other when they don’t want to? Honestly in the real world we don’t socialize with people that we don’t want to. Plus the school year is almost over. Are u people gonna start this nonsense with the next group, next year?

mountain man

April 9th, 2013
6:55 am

What schools should do is not allow the use of the school name in any of these “private parties”. You could have a “2013 Prom” but not a “Wilcox High School 2013 Prom (no blacks allowed)”. Also, if the people renting space for these “private parties” made them sign a non-discrimination agreement as a condition of facility rental.

Van Jones

April 9th, 2013
7:22 am

No Bernie. What Wilcox Superintendent Steven Smith is really saying is “Hey, I’m running a school district here and I’ve got about as much business trying to regulate private parties some kids call “proms” as they do in determining where I go for my next vacation.”

bootney farnsworth

April 9th, 2013
7:35 am

I’ll be so glad when prom season is over and we can focus back on more important issues

Lee

April 9th, 2013
7:52 am

@bootney, you mean like football season? :)

GB

April 9th, 2013
7:57 am

mountain man

What schools should do is not allow the use of the school name in any of these “private parties”.

School officials do not own the word. They cannot prohibit others from using it.

Lee

April 9th, 2013
7:57 am

“…we also passed a resolution advocating that all activities involving our students be inclusive and non-discriminatory.”

I wonder if they have school sponsored discriminatory racial groups such as the Black Student Alliance?

Mountain Man

April 9th, 2013
7:59 am

Maybe if we no longer classified school clases as “school-sponsored events”, then we could go back to segregated classes.

10:10 am

April 9th, 2013
8:02 am

In their search for continual “provocations” the racial grievance industry now seems to have descended on quiet Wilcox County, Georgia—while caring not one bit what the inhabitants, even the students themselves, might actually think.

The wise white liberals of distant big-city newspapers always know better. Right?

And socialism isn’t foisted on any society without first creating and exploiting “enemies.” In this country race and Christianity are the designated enemies, and it’s tiny Wilcox County’s turn to be cast in that role.

GB

April 9th, 2013
8:02 am

mountain man

Also, if the people renting space for these “private parties” made them sign a non-discrimination agreement as a condition of facility rental.

You have more than one interesting idea. Say you own a hotel with a ball room. Say I want to rent it for a party,. Are you going to tell me who I can invite to my party? Are you going to require me, as a condition of my PAYING YOU MONEY in return for temporary use of your property, to let YOU decide whom I invite to MY party?

And why do you keep putting the work “private” quotes? From everything we have read they are private. Not “private.” Private.

Mountain Man

April 9th, 2013
8:12 am

GB – you can have as many private parties (no quotation marks) as you want. You can have them any time of year that you want. You can invite whomever you want. But these parties are billing themselves as proms, which confuses some people with the official school-sponsored proms that we USED to have.

Pluto

April 9th, 2013
8:17 am

I wish our school “chiefs” would make these insufferable proms outside the realm of school functions so I wouldn’t have to chaperone the event. Yeah that;s the ticket, duck and deny. Let’s move on here there’s nothing to see.

Maureen Downey

April 9th, 2013
8:25 am

@Mountain, There is no doubt that these private events have become the high school proms in their towns and are regarded so by parents and kids. And that has been the case for decades now.
But even with that, should schools get back into the prom business, which is fraught with liability issues and other concerns?
In the case of Wilcox, the district has the world looking over its shoulder so I am not sure it has a choice. The district may have to get back into the business of sponsoring the prom to put an end to segregated proms.
For those who say that proms aren’t important in the big picture, I agree but these events are an important part of the high school experience for many parents and kids. The prom has been enshrined in our culture as a teen touchstone.
Maureen

Ronin

April 9th, 2013
8:29 am

If a private group of individuals wants to have a private party, not on state property, fine. They can invite or not invite whoever they want. While we’re at it, eliminate the football and other athletic programs and make the focus on education. While there will be those of you that state athletics builds leadership skills, I’ll agree with that. However, bring back physical education to all high school students so that they won’t be obese at age 18 and require blood pressure medication.

The liberal ideas of the 60’s infiltrated and influenced the model of public schools that we have today.
It’s either not what most would have expected OR its turned out exactly how it was intended, as it’s easier to control the dumb masses.

Maureen Downey

April 9th, 2013
8:37 am

@Ronin, I was thinking last night after talking to the Montgomery County superintendent how much time school districts spend on stuff outside classroom learning, including sports. In my career, I have done stories on fights at sporting events, on parents upset over how cheerleaders were selected, on battles over who would be valedictorian, on court challenges on certain clubs being allowed or not allowed, on censorship of student art in the literary magazine.
If schools got rid of all the extras and focused purely on classroom instruction, superintendents might have fewer headaches. But the research tells us that schools might have fewer students as well as it’s these “extras” that keep some students showing up.
Maureen

old teach

April 9th, 2013
8:38 am

Schools face tremendous obstacles in reaching out to the community, to get the parents more involved in the students’ education. For many the hook will be sports; for others, it will be chorus or drama. But, in all aspects, the school must be perceived as a unifying–not divisive element. I feel that prom is one more way to get as much of the community as possible involved. But for it to work properly, it must be organized through the school and open to all students. As a matter of fact, in order for schools to make the most of their outreach potential, several options must be used:
1-PTA
2-Parent-Teacher Night during/after grading periods
3-Student Clubs, some of which will use community drives or visits
4-School plays and choral/musical performances
5-Tutoring for interested parents
6-School talent shows
7-On-campus awards/ recognition ceremonies
8-Assemblies using Motivational speakers
9-Academic team competition (Math Team, Quiz Bowl, etc)
10-Use of students in vo tech-automotive, for example-to repair vehicles

In short, if the school is genuinely interested in getting the community involved in the education of the students, then sponsoring the school prom is just one tool to use.

indigo

April 9th, 2013
8:57 am

I did not go to my high school prom because I was short and plain looking and none of the girls had the slightest interest in me.

There was no organization like the NAACP to look out for students like me. There were no newspaper pundits writing concerned articles about me and others like me. There was no concern in Congress to address my suffering.

From my first day in school right thru all my working years, being short and plain made me essentially invisible to those around me.

So, pardon me if I don’t have too much pity for these poor suffering Blacks who have been showered with concern from all corners since the 50’s.

lexi3

April 9th, 2013
9:20 am

MAurteen: “I’m not sure what schools can do to stop parents from holding “white-only” parties for graduates under the guise of “tradition.”

Why should schools “stop” parents from having parties with and for people of their own choosing? Are administrators blessed with some superior ideas about composing guest lists, and, even if that were the case, should those ideas trump private intercourse?

Ronin

April 9th, 2013
9:26 am

Marueen, @8:37, Actually, that’s probably why many of those activities are still there. Public schools (or private) aren’t going to turn out many “Sheldon Cooper” type students that are intelligent to the point of looking at other humans like bugs. Sure, you get your occasional math or music prodigy, but for the most part, schools have to try to try to offer programs that will interest a wide variety of people.

Given all the debate over Charters last year. It would be interesting to see if some of those schools can offer areas of specialized development in not only math or science, but music and arts, starting in middle school or younger. As I’ve said before, give students what they want to learn about, starting at an early age and you’ll see the graduation rates increase due to subject matter interest rather than political gamesmanship.

RCB

April 9th, 2013
9:36 am

@Maureen, do black students have parties at lake houses, too, or only white students? Very subtle.

Maureen Downey

April 9th, 2013
9:39 am

@lexi3, Depends on how these proms are perceived. Someone noted that these “private” proms and homecoming dances end up in the high school yearbooks sometimes. That suggests that these private functions serve a more official function. Yearbooks — at least in my time as an editor in high school and as an adviser later — focused on school events. (I advised a college yearbook staff as part of my teaching duties at a community college.)
Can anyone out there speak to whether these private proms are treated as school events in some regards?
Maureen

SBinF

April 9th, 2013
9:57 am

I always appreciate blog posts such as this, it really gives the closet racists a place to come lament their fall into irrelevancy. Butthurt at the fact that their lily-white country is slipping away from them, they are so mad that they could almost stomp themselves out of existence, a la Rumpelstiltskin.

KID

April 9th, 2013
10:01 am

Indigo:

You failed to mention what occurred before the 50’s….Jim Crow laws that denied Blacks of the opportunities to generally participate in mainstream society. What you are seeing unfortunately is the result of this terrible time in our country where race was legally used to deny opportunities.

So yes to you and Lee, affirmative action and other programs designed to provide advancement to Blacks was necessary to overcome the atrocities.

johnny too good

April 9th, 2013
10:06 am

If eye witness somebody breaking into my neighbor’s home and stand idly by and do nothing, I’m just as guilty.

johnny too good

April 9th, 2013
10:06 am

“All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Rockerbabe

April 9th, 2013
10:07 am

How sad. I graduated from duPont Manual High School in Louisivlle, KY in 1970. We were about 25% black and “other”. We had one prom and anyone who wanted to work on the prom could and anyone who wanted to come, just had to buy a ticket for admission. I was held off campus, but was well attended by all students, not just the white students. I find it incredible, that in this day and time, there are still separate proms for the kids based on skin color.

All I can say is how sad!

UofL cardinals are #1! Yeah!

johnny too good

April 9th, 2013
10:07 am

Cop out to cover their condoning the segregation.

SBinF

April 9th, 2013
10:09 am

Let’s not forget the elephant in the room:

The largest group to benefit from affirmative action programs has been…white women.

It’s an inconvenient truth, and certainly doesn’t fit into the narrative of mediocre performers who wish to blame someone fro their lack of achievement in life.

Roger

April 9th, 2013
10:11 am

Yeah, look at the racists snark about integrated proms. The question that should be asked is why do people even go to proms. Ridiculous waste of money in a society where many families can’t even pay their regular expenses. Just have a year end party without all the stupid formality. And some are right. Schools should be worried more about education standards.

indigo

April 9th, 2013
10:13 am

KID – 10:01

Try being short and plain and then see how many “opportunities to generally participate in mainstream society” you get.

johnny too good

April 9th, 2013
10:16 am

Hey anybody from Wilcox, was Nick Marshall or any other of the popular black athletes allowed at the “non school sponsored private party”? I mean, ya’ll want em on the field and the courts for ya, but they cant dance with or talk to your kids? Cool.

Mary Elizabeth

April 9th, 2013
10:23 am

The words of Superintendent Smith:

“Earlier in this school year, a group of ladies {four high school students} approached the Wilcox County Board of Education and the Superintendent to discuss their plans for hosting an ‘integrated prom’. . . .I am pleased to report that WCHS Principal Chad Davis has stated that his Leadership Team will place the 2014 Prom on its agenda for its next meeting.

Instead of attacking our school system, its employees, and our community, we ask for your support and prayers as we seek to right the wrongs of the past and be the adults our children look up to.”
===================================================

Having a school prom is one further step in altering the sensibilities of students, and their parents, to understand that all people, spiritually, are equal. The endorsement of an integrated school prom in south Georgia should not be minimized as “fluff.”

I urge the principals and teachers in south Georgia (where I was born and graduated from high school over a half-century ago) to encourage students to talk openly and honestly in their history and social studies classes about the significance of societal change, the status quo, tradition, human rights, and evolving perceptions toward all people. Encourage students, also, to discuss how their integrated school prom might fit into this broader and deeper consciousness regarding all people. Students and teachers should not be afraid to broach these subjects in their classes. Education, of depth, is the light that can alter, for the better, the still lingering fears of many in south Georgia toward change, racial equality, and perceptions of “the other.” As a south Georgia native originally, I can offer personal testimony that south Georgia needs to move even more rapidly into the 21st century regarding racial matters. These steps taken toward establishing integrated school proms in south Georgia are a beginning.

I am very proud of the four young, female students who got the integrated school prom “ball rolling” (pun intended) in their school district. A few voices can make a difference in effecting positive change for all – in any time and in any place. My personal thanks to the four high school students, Principal Davis, and Superintendent Smith for helping to “open wide a bridge of understanding as century twenty-one shall begin,” as one south Georgia poet had penned.

PAL

April 9th, 2013
10:25 am

“Wilcox County High School has never hosted a school-sponsored prom.” This is so NOT true. Never is a long time and in the old days, the proms were school-sponsored and you did not even have to purchase a ticket (which, by the way, purchasing a ticket eliminates the poor who cannot afford a ticket). It is what it is: a private party, planned & executed by parents and designed to include a particular circle of young people…kinda like a birthday party or bar mitzvah.

Dekalbmom

April 9th, 2013
10:28 am

Proms in general are increasing out of control financially. Way to much emphasis has been placed on the dresses, cars, restaurants and fancy venues. Prom is a celebration, but also an opportunity for young people to learn how to function in a formal setting. The per capita income in Wilcox County is less than $15,000 a year. These students, their families and all of our communities would better served by getting back to basics. Dress up the gym, let the students be the primary planners, and have a good time.

lexi3

April 9th, 2013
10:43 am

Maureen @ 9:39
“Someone noted that these “private” proms and homecoming dances end up in the high school yearbooks sometimes. That suggests that these private functions serve a more official function.”
So the fact that someone noted that a picture “might” wind up in a yearbook is reason for the government organ to stop people from choosing their own associates? I’ll note that if you drive today you might get in an accident. Reason to take away your keys? How about a less intrusive solution: stop printing the hypothetical picture in the yearbook.

For the uninitiated: I am not advocating segregated proms, though I do favor the right of folks not acting under the color of government to choose with whom they associate, free from the heavy handed interference of those who always know better than everyone else how lives should/must be lived.

Side Query: aren’t most yearbooks in publication by the time proms roll around?

Rockerbabe

April 9th, 2013
10:50 am

SBinF: just what does having a separate prom for teenagers have to do with white women and afirmative action? Many white women and women in general, stay home to raise kids and take care of the elderly members of the family – that is not lack of achievement. You have an attitude problem; I suggest you take a good look in the mirror and stop passing judgement on others.

SBinF

April 9th, 2013
11:22 am

Scroll up a bit…someone was lamenting the fact that the students who brought this idea about would be displaced by unqualified minorities in college.

The people I’m talking about are precisely those…using affirmative action as an excuse their own failures. Didn’t get into college? Obviously it’s because a lesser qualified minority was let in ahead of you. It couldn’t be that you simply didn’t make the cut when weighed against the other applicants. Didn’t get that promotion? Well duh, they gave it to a black guy because he was black.

You get the picture.

lexi3

April 9th, 2013
12:03 pm

SBinF:

Ever hear of “holistic admissions”? Think all admission tracks are color blind? If not the latter, why not?

Madge From Accounting

April 9th, 2013
12:51 pm

Nice informative article Maureen! thank you.

Instead of just “reporting” you also “explained” and sometmes, “critiqued”!

You dear lady, are doing what reporters are supposed to do!! Egads woman — Don’t let CNN or Fox News hear of this — they may come after you with a pitchfork, some tar, and a couple of feathers!

Lions, tigers, bears………..oh my!

bootney farnsworth

April 9th, 2013
1:26 pm

@ maureen

at one of my kids schools, the yearbook is laden with pictures donated by the kids chronicling their lives during the school year. whitewater, beach trips, braves games, even big parties.

all of which are way outside anything relating to school functions, officially or otherwise. think facebook in print was the way it was explained to me. the school reserves veto power if say, someone wanted to include their Klan rally pics.

its about the kids, and the school is the common bond – not the driving force.

so I’m not sure the point about de facto sponsorship by the school applies.

Bernie

April 9th, 2013
1:31 pm

I say Kudos and Congratulations to the (4) FOUR Brave Students ,who had the CHUTZPAH to do what the so called Adults in the community and School Adminstrators would not DO!

The Kids appear to be the WISEST individuals in regards to this particular situation.

bootney farnsworth

April 9th, 2013
1:35 pm

@ lexi3

admissions tracks are not color blind, unless you expand the definition to mean ignoring people of some colors in favor of others.

God’s truth: since my layoff I’ve been actively looking for work. on nearly every job I’ve applied for, just after the education and experience bit, asks VERY CLEARLY if you (the applicant) are latino

knowing that, can’t help but assume a name like Peron or Chavez will get more traction in some circles than Smith or Jones.

Michigan1942

April 9th, 2013
2:28 pm

God made of all us!