A segregated prom refers to the practice of United States high schools, generally located in the Deep South, of holding racially segregated proms for white and black students. The practice spread after these schools were integrated, and persists in a few rural places to the present day. The separate proms have been the subject of frequent (often negative) press coverage, and at least two movies.
Prior to the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Brown v. Board of Education, most schools in the southern United States were racially segregated. The process of integration of schools was slow, and many schools did not become integrated until the late 1960s and early 1970s. In order to avoid having to hold an integrated prom, many high schools stopped sponsoring any prom, and private segregated proms were organized as a replacement. Sometimes a concern over interracial dating was cited as the reason for not holding a single prom. Other schools cited liability concerns as the reason for not sponsoring a prom.
In addition to segregated proms, some schools have also elected black and white homecoming kings and queens, class officers, and even awarded separate black and white superlatives such as "Most Likely To Succeed." School sponsored separate events, including separate homecoming queens or superlatives, have been deemed to violate federal law by the United States Department of Justice.
In 1990, The New York Times reported that 10 counties in Georgia were still holding segregated proms. Though the practice has been reported to be on the decline, occasional press reports seem to show it persists in some rural locations. Since 1987, media sources have reported on segregated proms being held in the U.S. states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi,South Carolina, and Texas.
School alumni at schools which held segregated proms sometimes hold segregated class reunions as well.
Outside the Deep South
Even prior to integration in the South, there have been instances of segregated proms being held in integrated schools in the northern United States. In the late 1920s, for example, separate proms for black and whites are recorded as occurring at Froebel High School in Gary, Indiana.
- Charleston, Mississippi: In 1997, actor Morgan Freeman offered to fund a racially integrated prom in Charleston, Mississippi, where he lives. The offer was turned down. In 2007, he made the offer again and it was accepted, and the school held its first integrated prom in 2008, profiled in the documentary Prom Night in Mississippi.
- Taylor County, Georgia: In 2002, Taylor County, Georgia made international news for holding its first integrated prom, and again when a group of white students proceeded to hold a separate prom the following year. The 2006 film For One Night is based on these events.
- Toombs County, Georgia: In 2004, it was reported that Hispanic students at Toombs County High School had planned their own prom, and that separate white, black, and Hispanic proms would be held. The school, 56% white, 31% black, and 12% Hispanic, had been holding separate white and black proms since 1971.
- Montgomery County, Georgia: In 2009, The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph both profiled the racially segregated prom in Montgomery County, Georgia.
- Wilcox County, Georgia: In 2013, the New York Times published an article about Wilcox County High School's first integrated prom, which took place that year, and was organized by students.
- Prom Night in Mississippi, 2009 documentary that follows a group of Charleston, Mississippi high-school students preparing for their first racially integrated prom in town history.
- For One Night, 2006 film based on first integrated prom in Taylor County, Georgia held in 2002.
- Hulond Humphries, former principal in Randolph County, Alabama who threatened to cancel the school prom in the mid-1990s to prevent attendance by interracial couples.
- 2010 Itawamba County School District prom controversy, in which a private prom was organized by a school in order to exclude a lesbian student and her date from attending.
- William O. Tome (September 20, 1954). "Deep South Adamant But Some Schools In Once-Segregated Area Begin Integrated Slate". Times-News. Retrieved March 17, 2010.(Reporting on early integration steps after Brown was decided, article quotes an unnamed white student, "What we'll do about dances, Will they go to our proms.")
- McIntosh, Barbara (May 2, 1988). "The Class That Crossed the Great Divide; In Arkansas, a High School's First Integrated Prom". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 23, 2010.(reporting on first integrated prom in Forrest City, Arkansas, and noting "This Mississippi River Delta town, like many other Southern communities, had eliminated school-sponsored dances and other social functions when court-ordered integration began in the mid-1960s. For 23 years private, racially segregated dances sponsored by social clubs and individual families had taken the place of a traditional prom in Forrest City.")
- Mark Walsh (May 14, 2003). "In Some Southern Towns, Prom Night a Black-or-White Affair". Education Week. Retrieved March 17, 2010.("... the 1970s. That is when many Southern schools were belatedly integrated, and the time when a new set of traditions was born. While black and white students now sat side by side in classrooms and on the school bus, the races would still often gather separately when it came time for the biggest dance of the year.")
- Sara Corbett (May 21, 2009). "A Prom Divided". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
- Elliott Minor (May 2, 2003). "Some Taylor County Students Are Reviving Segregated Prom". Rome News-Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved March 17, 2010. ("After integration in the early 1970s, school officials stopped sponsoring a prom, in part because of fear of interracial dating.")
- Shapiro, Dana (May 2003). "Separate but equal?". Spin. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
- Associated Press (May 6, 1990). "Segregated prom a sure sign of spring for Alabama town". Star-News. Retrieved March 17, 2010.[dead link] (reported on segregated proms at Eufaula High School in Alabama, noting that "opponents of segregated proms claim the white-controlled school board uses worries over liquor and liability to dodge the issue of mixed-race dances")
- Greg Bluestein (April 22, 2007). "Ga. School Throws First Integrated Prom". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved March 23, 2010.(reporting on first integrated prom in Turner County, Georgia, also noting that "Aniesha Gipson, who became the county's first solo homecoming queen last fall as it abandoned the practice of crowning separate white and black queens.")
- Caroline Hendrie (October 13, 2004). "U.S. Warns Schools on Racially Separate Activities". Education Week. Retrieved March 23, 2010.("Practices such as holding segregated high school proms or naming separate race-based sets of recipients for senior-year honors 'are inconsistent with federal law and should not be tolerated,' says the joint letter from the civil rights offices of the federal departments of Justice and Education.' We have found, for example, that some school districts have racially separate homecoming queens and kings, most popular student, most friendly, as well as other superlatives,' says the letter. 'We have also found that school districts have assisted in facilitating racially separate proms.'")
- Isabel Wilkerson (May 14, 1990). "Segregated Prom Finally Abandoned". The Register-Guard (reprinted from The New York Times). Retrieved March 17, 2010. (reporting on first integrated prom at Peach County High School in Fort Valley, Georgia held in 1990)
- Associated Press (May 11, 2003). "Georgia high school holds segregated prom". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
- Jeffrey Scott Shapiro (May 19, 2003). "What segregated proms convey". Sarasota Herald-Tribune (reprinted from Los Angeles Times). Retrieved March 17, 2010.("Segregated proms, although apparently few, are one of the worst public displays of racism in today's America.")
- Rogers, Patrick (May 19, 2003). "Black and White Proms". People. Retrieved March 23, 2010.(reporting on segregated prom in Johnson County, Georgia, and noting "Though no national figures exist, Johnson is not the only county in the U.S. to host segregated proms.")
- Vickii Howell (November 23, 2000). "Decades later, humiliated student receives an invitation to reunion". The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved March 23, 2010.(reporting that location of prom was kept a secret from first black student at Jones Valley High School in Birmingham, Alabama, in the mid-1960s so she could not attend)
- Katherine Monk (December 3, 2009). "Morgan Freeman goes to the Prom". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved March 17, 2010.[dead link]
- "Two proms: one white, one black". Lodi News-Sentinel. April 18, 1987. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Associated Press (June 30, 1984). "Their prom was segregated ...10 years later class reunion is, too". Evening Independent. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Bill O'Reilly (May 8, 2003). "Circling the wagons". Fox News Channel. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
- Associated Press (May 11, 2004). "Georgia county holds racially themed proms". Boca Raton News. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
- Jeffry Scott (May 9, 2004). "One town, three proms". The Gadsden Times. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
- "Hispanic Prom Added at Toombs County High". WTOC-TV. April 13, 2004. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
- Leonard Doyle (June 21, 2009). "Segregated high school proms divide Georgia's students". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
- "Voices From a Divided Prom". The New York Times. May 24, 2009. Retrieved April 5, 2010. (online audio and slideshow supplementing article)