By Marin Cogan
It is a story that should have been dated April 26, 1963: Four young women from Abbeville, Georgia, two white and two black, working together to change their high school's long-running practice of racially segregated proms. But the story of Mareshia Rucker, Stephanie Sinnott, Quanesha Wallace, and Keela Bloodworth, who came together to transform their school's culture and make a powerful statement about racial unity, ran on Friday April 26, 2013 in The New York Times. On Saturday, the girls celebrated their efforts—which drew a huge outpouring of support from around the country—with the first integrated prom in their school's history.
Read the backstory and try to resist the temptation to hit your head on your desk: Racially segregated proms have only recently gone out of fashion in the South, but in Wilcox County, where the girls go to high school, the white- and black-only events have been organized for decades by the students' parents—many of whom attended their own segregated dance in high school. Because the events weren't technically organized by the schools, they could continue to operate as "separate but equal" events, a relic of the segregation era in the South—even though the Supreme Court decided way back in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that public schools must be free and open to all students. The racially segregated proms still have some defenders, the Times reports, like the city councilman who argues that the separation is meant to accommodate different tastes in music—an argument that could only be made by someone who hasn't spoken to a single young person in several decades.
It would all be disheartening if it weren't for the incredible activism the situation produced. The girls organized and found supporters online—and began drawing attention from around the country. They held barbecue chicken dinners to raise money and received enough donations to rent a ballroom. DJs and photographers from out of state volunteered to come and lend their talents. By Friday, nearly half of the school's population had registered to attend.
Meanwhile, at least 26,225 supporters from around the world offered their support via a Facebook page, leaving comments that indicated what kind of impact their efforts were having. From a fan in Midland, Michigan: "Congratulations, students, for being bigger than yourselves, being brave when faced with the status quo, and busting through the ridiculous color barrier. You should be brimming with pride for making this world a more tolerable place." From one in Norwalk, Connecticut: "ADMIRABLE effort—hope you had a great time." From another in northwestern Oregon: "So proud of you kids for doing what ADULTS/BOARD MEMBERS should have done/encouraged a long time ago!! You are the future leaders of this country...and you will go far."
As the integrated prom grew nearer, you could see the girls' excitement growing on their public Facebook updates. "I'm sooooo excited right now," Quanesha Wallace, one of the organizers, wrote on her wall Saturday. "I can't wait to see all of my babies in their beautiful attire. It's finally here and 'OUR senior prom.' Just want you all to know that I love you all dearly."
That night, the students at Wilcox County High celebrated their year-end blowout in Mardi Gras masks and formal dresses. The only thing that set it apart from a normal high school prom was the local and national news crews documenting the dance. On Sunday, photos of students bearing the tag INTEGRATED PROM 2013 were making their way to the group. After the dance, Keela Bloodworth, another of the group's founders, posted a public message on her wall: "what an amazing night! :) all the news crews got a little annoying, but it was pretty great! now I'm hurting all over from all the dancing."
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