Segregated Proms Still Exist

The debate about senior prom usually focuses on whether to go, what to wear, and who to take. But in Georgia’s Montgomery County the prom-related question that often arises is whether to adhere to the tradition of segregated proms. Each year, white students from Montgomery County High School attend what is referred to by many students as the “white-folks prom,” and the black students attend the “black-folks prom,” which is open to anyone, but few if any whites attend. Neither proms are sponsored by the high school. Instead, they’re organized by student committees with the help (and input) of parents. Students of both races say they have interracial friendships and relationships. “But it’s the white parents who say no. … They’re like, if you’re going with the black people, I’m not going to pay for it,” Terra Fountain, a white 18-year-old who graduated last year and is now living with her black boyfriend, told the New York Times. Black members of the student council say they have asked school administrators for an opportunity to organize a single school-sponsored prom, but that, and efforts to collaborate with white prom organizers has failed. Principal Luke Smith says the school has no plans to organize or sponsor a prom because when it did in 1995, attendance was low.

This year black students, who wanted to see their white friends all gussied up for prom, drove to the community center where the white prom is held and watched their friends do the “senior walk,” the elegantly parading in pairs into prom. Then, the black students left. At a local KFC, the seven teens seemed to question whether their white friends were indeed helpless against their parents’ prejudice (“You’re 18 years old! You’re old enough to smoke, drive, do whatever else you want to. Why aren’t you able to step up and say, ‘I want to have my senior prom with the people I’m graduating with?’ “). But then they had to leave in order to get ready for their prom the next night. [New York Times]

The fact that segregated proms are still going on in 2009 speaks to the complacency that plagues our youth. These students shouldn’t hide behind the “this is tradition” excuse. Instead, the white and black students could organize one single prom by finding someplace to donate the space. And if they’re parents won’t pay for fancy dresses and tuxedos, then they should just wear what they can afford on their own, even if it’s jeans and T-shirt. An iPod could supply the music. This would be a budget affair, but at least the teens would be standing up for a principle. I’m sure most parents would bow to their child’s demands once they realize they’d be excluded from an important part of their child’s life. Or, the students could threaten not to attend graduation if the school doesn’t sponsor a single prom. But, it seems, attending prom is more important to these students than the messed up principles surrounding their community’s segregated dances.