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Proms are formal dances that serve as a final, fun event for high school seniors. (Stewart Cohen / Blend Images / Getty Images)

Dancing Together

High school students in Georgia organize their school’s first prom open to students of all races

By Zach Jones | May 9 , 2013

Prom is a big night for high school students. The famous formal dance is a last chance to celebrate and say goodbye when senior year ends. In Wilcox, Georgia, this year’s prom season was even more important than usual—it is the first time in the school’s history that a prom was held for students of all races.

For decades, parents of students at Wilcox County High School have thrown two separate proms—one for white students and one for nonwhite students. Wilcox students report that a biracial teen was even stopped from entering the door at last year’s white prom. When different groups of people are kept apart like this, it is called segregation.

Parents who put on the separate proms say they are a tradition for the small town. But four friends challenged that tradition this year by throwing their own party. Their prom was open to any student who wanted to come.

FIGHTING FOR FRIENDSHIP

Keela, Mareshia, Quanesha, and Stephanie have been best friends since fourth grade. Stephanie and Keela are white, and Mareshia and Quanesha are black. When the girls realized that they would not be able to dance together on prom night, they were upset.

“I didn't understand what was so different about me and them,” Mareshia told reporters at CNN. “There is no difference.”

They asked school officials to have one prom open to all students. Officials said they could not stop segregated proms held privately by parents. But the school agreed to allow an integrated prom, one that includes everyone without rules on race.

So the girls held many fund-raising events and asked for donations on a Facebook page that told their story. “We want to make a difference in our community,” the website read. In a few months, they were able to raise $15,000 to make the prom a reality.

A NEW TRADITION

Before the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, segregation of black people and white people was common in public spaces such as schools, restaurants, buses, and trains, especially in the South. Many years ago, courts ruled that this practice was illegal. But the proms in Wilcox were allowed because private citizens, not the government, were paying for them.

The girls say putting the prom together was not easy. Some students felt strongly that the two proms should stay separate. They had to work hard to raise money for a prom many people in their county did not seem to want. They even lost friendships. But on prom night, the four friends dressed up and made history in their town.

The party’s theme was “Masquerade Ball in Paris.” Guests wore masks and danced next to a tiny version of the Eiffel Tower. Nearly 60 students bought tickets to the integrated prom. That’s half of the senior class! The four friends consider their dance to be a big success.

They hope Wilcox students will keep the dance going next year too. The groundbreaking girls have even saved some of the money they raised to give to next year’s organizers.

“[A] new tradition,” says Quanesha. “Leave them a little something so it won't be so hard for them like it was hard for us."

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