Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Georgia Students Challenge Wilcox County High School’s Racially Segregated Proms

A group of students at a south Georgia high school that still has racially segregated proms and homecomings is organizing the first-ever integrated prom in school history.

Although integrated since 1971, Wilcox County High School in Rochelle holds two proms every April; one for white students, another for blacks. The school gets away with what would seem like a glaring violation of civil rights laws because technically, the school does not host the event. Parents do. Parents and students organize and fund the private dances, allowing them to exclude whoever they choose. Segregation is strictly enforced.

What would happen if a black student tried to attend the white prom?

“They would probably have the police come out there and escort them off the premises,” Keela Bloodworth, a white WCHS student who is among those organizing the integrated prom, told Fox 24.

That’s not mere conjecture. Last year, a mixed-race student was actually barred from entering the whites-only prom by police officers.

Homecoming is also segregated at WCHS. There have traditionally been two homecoming courts, one for each race. The school made history this year by electing only one court, with black student Quanesha Wallace crowned homecoming queen. But despite wearing the coveted crown, Wallace was not invited to the white homecoming dance, and she and the white homecoming king took separate photos for the school yearbook.

Wallace is now one of the students helping to host the integrated prom.

“I felt like there had to be a change,” Wallace told Fox 24. “For me to be a black person and the king to be a white person, I felt like ‘why can’t we come together?'”

Not everyone is feeling the love.

“I put up posters for the ‘Integrated Prom’ and we’ve had people ripping them down at the school,” Bloodworth told Fox 24.

Despite the efforts of the students organizing the integrated prom, there will still be two separate proms for white and black students.

Although locals claim that they come together, regardless of race, for important community events like WCHS football games, the demographic reality of Rochelle, a town of 1,200 residents located about 80 miles south of Macon, tells quite another story. Blacks, who make up about 50 percent of the population, live north of the railroad tracks. Whites, who comprise 45 percent of the population, live south of the tracks in far more prosperous conditions. According to USACityFacts, 20 percent of the town’s blacks are unemployed. Only 5 percent of whites are jobless. The median income for white residents is $22,396; for blacks, the figure is $14,358.

Morgan Pope, WCHS’s white 2008 homecoming queen, told journalist Cheree Franco that she never crosses the tracks into the black side of town.

“When the white kids want drugs, that’s where they go,” Pope said. “It’s dangerous over there.”

Many white Rochelle residents insist that WCHS proms are not segregated due to racism. Former WCHS student Regan Beale told Franco that her friends “aren’t racist, they’d just rather things be a certain way. They’d rather just have white people hang out with white people.”

“It’s the white people, the way they were raised, I guess,” Whitney Turner, another recent WCHS grad, told Franco. “I think it’s the white parents. They just don’t want their kids around blacks.”

“People are stuck in their old ways,” former WCHS student Rusheena Boone, who is black, told Franco. “They’re so traditional, they just don’t want to make the effort to change.”

But the group of students organizing the integrated prom are trying to change that. They’re hoping their event, which will take place on April 27, will be a success and they’ve set up a Facebook page with a donation link to help fund it. The group is also hosting a barbecue chicken plate sale fundraiser.

Interestingly, WCHS does host an integrated military ball that all Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) students must attend.

“Military Ball is mixed, and everybody has blast,” local Tyler McWhorter told Franco. When asked about the segregated proms, McWhorter shrugged and said, “people around here aren’t into change.”

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5 Comments

  1. AngieApril 4, 2013 at 12:50 pmReply

    This is disgusting! Unbelievable that segregation still exists! I hope this goes through. I love GA, but today..I am embarrassed to say I live here.

  2. LindsayApril 4, 2013 at 12:52 pmReply

    Wow! That is unreal. Doesn’t seem like 2013, that’s for sure.

  3. Proud Ga NativeApril 4, 2013 at 5:38 pmReply

    I have mixed feelings about this topic.

    As a Black Georgian, I’m equally embarrassed to hear about this kind of “tradition”*cough-cough” racism talking place like that. Its disgusting that any parent would even pay for something like that. I don’t even think I would want the year book since the king and queen had to take separate picture. I’m happy that the girls are taking a stand against and that their quest for a fully intergrated prom to light.

    However, I’m also pissed at the remarks being made about my states. Being called” backwards”” Hillbilly” and “bigoted” isn’t who I am and other Georgians. Wilcox County may be struggling with this racial issue, but they do not represent other towns and cities of Georgia. There are lots of Georgia towns who have intergrated proms,people dating/marrying people of other races. Though I’m from Atlanta,I’ve been going to a small town since childhood .Now I’m in my 40s.I’ve not once been racially harassed, the people have been nice to me and seen a lot of race mixing there. Ive never had this problem in Atlanta as well.I guess all Southerners are supposed to be racist, right?

    Another problem I have is how people just want to make racism a Southern thing. People may be surprised about Wilcox county ,but I’m not surprised about it not only because of their prom,but segregation as a whole in the US.It’s not just as Southern problem and its happening than people will want to admit.

    Wilcox may be a segregated county, but there are non Southern places that makes it look racially tolerant: This don’t happen at their proms, but its an everyday occurrence. A Black family in Orange County, CA was driven out of their White neighborhood by racists a year ago,a captains son was fired from from the NYC EMC after putting rascist twitter messages on his accounts or the top racist/segregated cities are not Southern. I’ve even visited some of these” intergrated” places.. only to discover that it was no better..if not worse than the South with some of these people living in the same segregation that the Wilcox County students are complaining about. Their prom may be forced segregation, but there are many places that practice voluntary segregation.

    Racism is in Wilcox County and all over the world. You don’t need Southern proms to indicate racism of a place.

    • Brett WilkinsApril 4, 2013 at 5:59 pmReplyAuthor

      Atlanta is a very cosmopolitan city and one of the few places in this country I would consider living in other than California.

      • Proud Ga NativeApril 9, 2013 at 6:55 amReply

        Yes, Atlanta is a very cosmopolitan city .Though Wilcox County is a small town I want to spread the truth about my state because I feel that the Southern stereotypes seem to out weigh reality here.

        When I bring up Non Southern places, it’s not meant to insult their regions(in case someone may get offended by it) but to let people know that segregation exist in those places.Right now, the spotlight is on Wilcox County, Ga,but it wasnt that long ago where a segregated prom took place…In New York. Though parents didnt pay for segregated proms,the kids self segregated themselves by race because they couldn’t decide on the kind of music they wanted at their prom.Some people tried to differiate the situation,but you cant. Whether there are parents doing the segregation or kids its still segregation.

        As I said, I ve been to places that makes Wilcox County,look intergrated. I ve been to Maryland, Pennsylvania, some of New York. At least where Ive been, I didnt see the races congregate with each other. They seemed to be in racial cliques .Yes,there were different races but they were separated socially.While Im not going to make my state seem racially perfect all I could remember feeling uncomfortable ,thinking “if this is what the North is supposed to be about ,I don’t want it.” Five days later after I left State College,Pennsylvania a racial incident took place at Penn State .

        Last week I was thinking about my state.It seems that I encounter more diversity than non diversity.Even with some of the small towns here,its the same. Just last year, I attended a high school graduation of my cousin.She lives in a small town.
        She sent me a picture of her with her White and Black friends on it. She went to her prom with a White boy. I looked in her yearbook.Her homecoming was intergrated..their king was White and the queen was Black.. and both took their pictures together .Even in the Superlative section, the most attractive guy was White and the girl was Black.

        What happened in Wilcox County doesnt represent the whole state of Georgia or its towns,but some people see it that way. If this incident would have happened in small town or Big City California or New York (which it has),people wouldn’t call it racist. I just wish that people wouldn’t see what happened in Wilcox as the whole state. Oops! I forgot! Media didn’t report this,but some of the students from the “segregated” proms are going to the mixed prom.

        P.S. Forgive me for writing too long,.It wasn’t my intention. I get carried away at times with a pen or a keypad.

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