It may be 2013, but students at a Georgia high school made national headlines Saturday night by holding their first-ever integrated prom. However, a CBS Atlanta News investigation, revealed segregation is still very much alive in the school system, despite the new developments.
Wilcox County High School is located three hours south of Atlanta. For decades, parents have funded and organized prom, not the school system. They've hosted a "white" prom and a prom for everybody else. Because it's a private event, no laws are broken.
However, this year, a group of students, two white girls and two black girls, became frustrated with the tradition and worked together to organize an integrated prom.
They faced a lot of opposition. "I put up posters for the integrated prom, and we've had people ripping them down at school," one student told a Macon-based T.V. station.
Despite the students holding a prom designed to include everybody, CBS Atlanta News discovered the "white" prom still took place. It was held in Fitzgerald, Georgia, on April 20. No one confirmed it was a "white-only" event, but dozens of Caucasian kids, dressed in prom gowns and tuxes, attended. CBS Atlanta News never saw anyone of color the entire night.
Most of the attendees refused to talk to CBS Atlanta News. They, instead, ignored our questions or spoke angrily. "Lady, get out of my face," snapped one father when asked why he was there.
Another father threatened to sue CBS Atlanta News, and yet another ordered us to turn-off our cameras. At one point, the police were even called even though we were breaking no laws by remaining outside of the event on a public sidewalk.
The Reverend Raphael Warnock, Ph.D., said he was surprised to learn the segregated proms were still taking place. He's the Senior Pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once preached. "The State of Georgia has a sad and painful history in this regard," he said when asked about segregation.
However, Warnock said the students' efforts to organize an integrated prom give him hope. He added he'd like to see Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R-GA) take a stand.
CBS Atlanta News asked Deal about the segregated proms, he said, "I believe anything associated with a school should not have the distinction based on race or gender or any other separation. However, when pressed, he said, "Some of these are just local issues and private issues and not something state government needs to have its finger involved in."
That did not sit well with Warnock. "The idea that these are private issues is really problematic… When the Montgomery bus boycott got started in 1955, that boycott was against a private bus company, and Rosa Parks stood up by not sitting down and said we won't accept segregation, not even on a private bus company, and the rest is history."
Wilcox County school administrators said they plan to discuss the possibility of hosting a school-sponsored prom in 2014, which would be integrated.
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