Prom Unites Georgia School

Greg Bluestein, Orlando Sentinel, April 23, 2007

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Black and white students at the southern Georgia school have been partying separately for decadesa form of self-imposed segregation that lingered generations after the civil-rights movement began.

Each year, white students raised money for their own unofficial prom, and black students did the same. The private parties soon became an annual ritual that divided Turner County anew each spring.

But a new tradition was born Saturday.

Horse-drawn carriages and stretch limousines carrying happy couples roamed the streets of downtown Ashburn. Churches, parks and homes were turned into backdrops as tireless students posed for round after round of photos. And local restaurants were packed.

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At the start of the school year, Turner County’s four senior-class officers delivered a message to Principal Chad Stone: They wanted an official prom, and they wanted everyone invited.

Stone quickly obliged, spending $5,000 of his discretionary fund to put together the first school-sponsored prom in decades. Another $5,000 came streaming in from supporters after news stories about the dance spread across the nation.

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Separate proms is the latest ritual to be defied by the town of 4,000.

“The school is making changesand they’re long overdue,” said Aniesha Gipson, who became the county’s first solo homecoming queen in the fall after it abandoned its practice of crowning separate white and black queens.

But some traditions die hard. About two-thirds of the school’s 160 upperclassmen purchased tickets for the prom, but blacks still easily outnumbered whites at the dance. And many whites still attended their own private party a week before.

“Last weekend was more like tradition. It wasn’t racist, or prejudice,” said Calvin Catom, a white senior who attended both parties. “This weekend is about the whole school getting together and having a party.”

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