He didn’t send his wife, First Lady Sandra Deal, to tell the group of interracial kids from Wilcox County High School how proud of them they were for putting on the school’s first integrated prom.
He didn’t send his chief of staff with an official statement from the governor’s office to tell the kids how much the governor wishes he could have been there.
He didn’t send a pre-recorded video, proclamation, certificate or cocktail napkin with the seal of the state of Georgia.
He did nothing, nada, ZERO to recognize the high school students from his state that had to have their very first integrated prom in 2013.
Shame on you Governor Nathan Deal!
And oh yeah – Governor Nathan Deal is from South Georgia, a town called Sandersville about an hour and a half from Wilcox County High School. He’s familiar with what goes on in South Georgia.
It’s hard to understand why Gov. Deal would not speak on the first integrated prom.
Everyone else did.
All the major networks from CNN to CBS featured the story of the kids at Wilcox County High School deciding there would no longer be separate white and black proms. Articles were written in major newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post.
The students raised money, they made signs (that were torn down), they gave insightful interviews on their thoughts about racial healing – they did what the adults could not do.
I am employed by CBS Radio Atlanta and we have the #1 urban station in Atlanta, V-103 FM. And when I heard about the story, I asked my program director if we could get involved. Of course, he said. So we did.
We provided the DJ, photographer, videographer and red carpet. And it was an amazing experience.
I took my daughter and her white friend. It was one of those teachable moments that I was fortunate enough to be a part of. They fit right in and had a ball.
Because in the end, it was really just a regular prom – except there was national media attending. I helped the girls adjust their dresses in the bathroom. I laughed with the guys as they told me about their tuxedo color choices; and I spoke with parents who described how proud they were of their children for standing up for what is right. (Again, something our own governor could not do).
I spoke with Shirley Sherrod, who now runs the Southwest Georgia Project and received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to help improve race relations and foster cooperation between whites and blacks in the often racially divisive region of Southwest Georgia.
Ms. Sherrod – who you may recall was forced to resign from a federal job after a widely-distributed, edited video misrepresented remarks she made as racist – played a major role in bringing the integrated prom into reality. She told me it was just the beginning, but a much needed start toward racial healing.
A full detail of police officers from the Cordele Police Department were on hand, just in case.
But the prom went on without incident. In fact, the atmosphere was more like a family reunion than a racial uprising. Neighbors, friends and family members lined the red carpet when the seniors did their senior stroll.
You heard all kinds of “Go girl!” and “Do it man!” and “You look sharp!” coming from the supportive community.
This integrated prom reached farther than the kids could have known. I spoke with a 1975 graduate of Wilcox County High School who came to the prom because he was so proud. He said when the word spread, former students from the Class of ’75 started reaching out to each other on social media, finding each other to express their feelings about an integrated prom finally taking place. He got all choked up telling me about it.
High school seniors from Atlanta traveled to Cordele to show their support and unite with the seniors of Wilcox County. They offered encouraging words, and told their counterparts how proud they were of them for standing up for equality. A motivational speaker congratulated the kids for “being the change they wanted to see” (part of a famous quote from Gandhi).
Then, they danced and danced and danced. They chose their Prom King and Queen. They toasted their success with engraved champagne flutes filled with sparkling cider. They picked up their gift bags and T-shirts which proudly said: “Unity In The Community – Wilcox County HS 1st Integrated Prom, April 27, 2013.”
They gave me a T-shirt as a token of appreciation, but what they really gave me was a strong dose of pride and hope in the future generation of leaders I am sure they will all turn out to be.
Speaking of leaders, my last interview was with Raymond Jones, an elected school board member from Wilcox County. He told me he feels a lot of shame for being an African-American school board member that let separate proms go on for so long. He plans to work to make things different; adding that the controversy has helped raise issues that need to be dealt with.
I guess Gov. Deal is not embarrassed by a first-ever integrated prom in his backyard, in 2013. I guess he doesn’t feel any shame for not addressing the issue or taking a stand for both the white and black students at Wilcox County High School who decided things needed to change in the Peach State.
I guess I will be thinking about this in November 2014 when Gov. Deal is up for re-election. I hope you do too.
A MESSAGE TO GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL: SOMETIMES SILENCE IS NOT GOLDEN!
- Mo Ivory, CBS Local