ALEX COHEN, host:
Back now with DAY TO DAY. Segregated schools may be a thing of the past, but segregated proms are not, at least not at Turner County High School in Ashburn, Georgia. This past weekend, for the first time ever the school held a racially integrated prom. Josephine Bennet of member station WMUM in Macon, Georgia has more.
JOSEPHINE BENNET: Turner County is named after Henry Turner, a captain in the confederate army. In the past, black and white students held private proms. The school has not sponsored its own event since 1971, when desegregation took effect.
(Soundbite of prom)
BENNET: Senior class president James Hall(ph) shows up for this year's prom in a white tuxedo with his date on one arm. Hall says the idea of a unified prom was a dream of the students.
Mr. JAMES HALL (Senior Class President, Turner County High School): Last year, we went to our own - well, when I say we, I mean the African-American kids. We have a prom and the Caucasian kids have a prom. At our prom, we go to our prom. You know, it was fun, but you know, it's not as good as it could've been with everybody, all your friends, the entire school.
BENNET: Cheryl Nichols(ph) looks like any other high school senior on prom night. Wearing a sequined gown, she has her hair pulled back in a bun. She says a group of white kids held their own prom last weekend, which she attended. Some of those kids will not be at tonight's prom.
Ms. CHERYL NICHOLS (Senior, Turner County High School): They are like because my mommy and daddy, you know, they don't agree with being with the colored people, which, you know, I think it's crazy, but you know, if you still live at with your parents, you kind of still have to abide by their rules.
BENNET: For students like Tiffany Gardner(ph), last week's prom was more about tradition.
Ms. TIFFANY GARDNER (Student, Turner County High School): I guess it was normal because that's how we all grew up. I think it's going to be great. I think everybody's going to get along and it's going to be fun because we're all just - we all grew up together. We all went to school together, so we get to have a prom together.
BENNET: School superintendent Ray Jordan graduated from Turner County High in the late '70s. He says the private proms have never been an issue.
Mr. JAY JORDAN (Superintendent, Turner County High School): We don't think the system was broke. There was no controversy. We had students of different races sharing their prom pictures and so forth from the individual proms. Our kids got along. They just chose not to party together.
BENNET: According to principal Chad Stone, 150 of the 174 kids eligible to come to this year's prom showed up. This is his first year as principal of Turner County High. He says when the story reached the rest of the world, the donations starting coming in from as far away as Afghanistan. The $5,000 in extra funds made it possible for him to buy 20 iPods to give away as door prizes and have a jump-start on next year's prom.
Mr. CHAD STONE (Principal, Turner County High School): The kids here in our senior class are very close kids. You know, they've been very successful in the classroom with doing outstanding on test scores across the state, and that's the type of kids we have. They've been very successful on the athletic field, playing together, so why not let's still be successful and have a school prom. I think you're going to see a lot of things change over the next few years.
BENNET: Outsiders were not allowed inside the prom. Noriega McKeller(ph) stepped out for a little fresh air and said things were going great inside.
Mr. NORIEGA McKELLER (Student, Turner County High School): We're in there partying, doing what we've got to do, everybody dancing with each other. It's real nice, it's real nice.
BENNET: Those sentiments are echoed by other kids as they leave the high school gym tired by happy. The girls carry their high heels in their hands, wearing their boyfriends' tuxedo jackets to ward off the chill of the night air, and if the smiles on their faces are any indication, the prom will be back next year. For NPR News, I'm Josephine Bennet.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.