Photo credits: Walter Petruska/Associated Press
Turner County High School students attended the school’s first racially mixed prom on April 21, 2007.
The school’s racial demographics mirrored those of the surrounding community: 55 percent black and 45 percent white. It was located in Ashburn, Georgia, a tiny, rural, peanut-farming town of 4,400 persons. The prom theme, “Breakaway,” was selected to signal a departure from the history of parent-sponsored, privately-funded “white” and “black” proms.
The school administration’s rulebook allowed for the financing of an official school-wide prom — only if senior class officials and the whole student population expressed real support for the event. During the 2006-2007 school year, the principal was contacted by the school’s four senior class officers—two white and two black—to explore having a school-wide prom. Senior class president James Hall said of the segregated proms: “Everyone claims that this has always been the case. It’s simply the way things are in this little town. However, it is past time for a change.”
The class of 2007 at Turner County High School likewise did away with the “custom” of picking both a white and a black homecoming queen. One week before the school-wide event, white parents staged a private, white-only prom, and some parents refused to allow their children to attend the integrated prom. Principal Chad Stone, who is white, said he would not try to stop future classes from having private proms.
Stone, on the other hand, preferred an integrated strategy, saying: “We already attend the same school. Let’s create a tradition so that this isn’t such a huge issue in 20 years.”