Wilcox County High School in Georgia Ends Segregation



Every young man and woman remembers their “senior prom”, whether they went to it or not.  There was a lot of pressure.  Finding the ‘right’ date was the first step.  For the boys it was fairly easy, we had to get a haircut, rent a tuxedo, and of course buy a corsage.  The girls searched for just the right dress, and shoes, and looked for hours through the fashion magazines to select the perfect hairstyle.

For those who could not or simply did not go, it was an evening they tried to push out of their minds.  And some simply didn’t believe in such events.

But, what if you were told you were absolutely not allowed to attend your senior prom?  How would you feel?

Mareshia Rucker is a student at Wilcox County High School.  It is located about 160 miles south of Atlanta.  This farming community has allowed its approximately 400 students to organize their own senior proms for over 40 years, one for blacks, and one for whites.

Mareshia is a cheerleader, and is active in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.  When in school, she is simply one of the students.  But on prom night she was one of the black students.  She was not allowed to attend the prom her white friends were having.

“We were different because we always have been together throughout school,” Mareshia said. “We’ve cheered together at football games. We’ve gone to each other’s houses and spent the night…There was no need in us having two separate [proms.]”

Certain preachers and community leaders are very open about their wish to keep them segregated.  Others claim, “it’s just always the way it’s always  been.”

Last weekend, Mareshia, 17, another black student, and two white students, held the first ever integrated prom in Wilcox County history.  Everyone was invited.  Friends lost friends, and some parents were appalled at the idea.

There were white couples, black couples, and mixed couples, all dressed in beautiful gowns and pressed tuxedos.

Student Alexis Miller said, “I feel like we are living Martin Luther King’s dream”.

I was in high school as the civil rights movement began to roll into high gear.  Living in Los Angeles, and attending a school that was well mixed in races and colors, I never thought much about it.  Then, in 1965, I was sent by the United States Air Force to Keesler AFB, Mississippi.  I was amazed.  It was as though I had been placed in another country, or on another planet.

Keelser is located in Biloxi, Mississippi, which is now known for its casinos.  In 1965, it was a gulf coast town, full of crime and corruption.  Sheriffs were given bonuses for each black Airman they put in jail.  One time we were shot at while riding in a car with other black Airmen.  When I went back home to Los Angeles, I was sure they were just trying to frighten us.  It worked.

After my discharge, I came to the decision that in some ways the civil rights movement was futile.  Laws could be changed, and rights be given, but attitudes and hatred were not going to be that easy to remove in a large part of our country.  Time would be the answer.  New generations would cease to harbor feeling of bigotry and racism.

Now a grandfather of three, I know I was right.  Each generation has witnessed a decrease in hating or disliking someone simply because their skin is a different color.

Last weekend’s prom in Wilcox County is proof.  There must certainly be some students who maintain that segregation in some matters should be the way, but now they are beginning to become the minority.

Being debated presently in the Supreme Court at this very moment is another social issue that has seen change over the last 50 years, same-sex marriage.  It is inevitable that it will happen, society wants it.  The majority of those under age 30 are in favor.  The problem that remains is that we have some old white men in congress and on the Supreme Court who are still mentally living in the 1950’s.

As I was reading about the two proms, I became certain that the integrated prom-goers most likely had more fun.  Their friends were there.  The attendees at the all-white prom must have missed some of their black schoolmates.

James Turnage

Columnist-The Guardian Express

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