Ga. school plans first integrated prom
April 22, 2002 Posted: 10:12 AM EDT (1412 GMT)
BUTLER, Georgia (AP) -- Nearly 15 years before Gerica McCrary was born, recently integrated Taylor County High School stopped sponsoring a prom. Parents and students set up their own -- one for blacks and one for whites.
The tradition continued for 31 springs in this rural county of 8,800 midway between Columbus and Macon in central Georgia until McCrary asked her fellow juniors to "stand for what is right" and vote to hold one prom for students of all races.
"In the beginning, the students were afraid of change," the black 17-year-old said. "But the kids got together. The students tore down the Berlin Wall. Both sides were tired of it.
"Now, I walk through the halls of the school and people are smiling," she said. "It brings tears to my eyes. We are in unity."
The junior class is responsible for setting up each year's prom, so next year's class could vote to go back to separate dances. But McCrary and others are hopeful that their May 3 bash -- at a hotel 50 miles away in Columbus -- will end the long history of segregation.
Taylor County High School has 420 students, 226 of them black. Nearly 75 percent of the juniors and seniors supported McCrary's proposal for one prom.
The decision upset a few parents, but only because they have a hard time adjusting to change, said Steve Smith, a high school algebra teacher who attended Taylor County schools during desegregation. He and his wife are assisting the junior class on behalf of their daughter and niece, both Taylor County students.
"We work together. We go to school together. Why is one night out of the year a big deal?" he asked.
Public schools in the rural South ignored federal orders to desegregate for decades. Taylor County did not allow blacks and whites to sit in the same classrooms until 16 years after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
Many rural Georgia high schools didn't integrate until the 1970s. After that, many school officials stopped sponsoring proms, in part because of the fear of interracial dating.
In some areas, parents and students would hold their own proms -- often separated by race. Taylor County is among the last to cling to the practice. Vidalia city schools in east central Georgia still have separate proms.
Even today, Taylor County school officials don't like to discuss the prom, saying it is a private event. In some other south Georgia counties, students shun the school-sponsored proms and attend private spring dances at country clubs or meeting halls instead.
Ralph Noble, president of the 37,000-member Georgia Association of Educators, said the students' decision "truly shows that children are wiser than adults many times."
McCrary, who has a 4.0 average and participates in several extracurricular activities, said she was inspired by a classroom slogan that said: "Stand for what is right, or stand alone."
"At first, I was standing alone," she said. "Some thought it was absurd. I wanted unity, diversity, equality. Now, when I walk through the school, people congratulate me."
McCrary and about a dozen fellow students were making prom decorations in the cafeteria this week. She rushed from table to table, encouraging and praising classmates who were stuffing invitations into envelopes and painting signs festooned with glitter.
"She's definitely a leader," said Jeremie Williams, a black junior. "I was for it all along. I saw how other schools were coming together and I thought we should come together and have one prom. I'll go and have a good time."
I'd say its about time! Shows me how much I know bout our country. I thought all schools were pretty much desegregated by now, even in the south. I guess I was wrong. Glad to see kids taking the initiative for a change.