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Students attend school's first integrated prom

Story Highlights

• Students of Turner County High School voted to have school-sponsored prom
• In the past, parents have organized private, segregated dances
• Principal Chad Stone says the official prom will become a yearly event
• Senior Class President James Hall led the movement for the integrated prom
By Kristi Keck
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ASHBURN, Georgia (CNN) -- Students of Turner County High School started what they hope will become a new tradition: Black and white students attended the prom together for the first time on Saturday.

In previous years, parents had organized private, segregated dances for students of the school in rural Ashburn, Georgia, 160 miles south of Atlanta.

"Whites always come to this one and blacks always go to this one," said Lacey Adkinson, a 14-year-old freshman at the school of 455 students -- 55 percent black, 43 percent white. (Watch students arrive at dance Video)

"It's always been a tradition since my daddy was in school to have the segregated ones, and this year we're finally getting to try something new," she said. (Audio slide show: A town breaks with tradition)

Adkinson's sister, Mindy Bryan, attended a segregated prom in 2001.

"There was not anybody that I can remember that was black," she said. "The white people have theirs, and the black people have theirs. It's nothing racial at all."

Breaking away from traditions

But this year's upperclassmen -- 213 students total --voted to have just one official prom.

"It's been a dream of all of ours," Senior Class President James Hall said.

"We didn't want to put emphasis on integrated blacks and whites coming together. We just wanted to put emphasis on this was our first school prom," Principal Chad Stone said.

The theme of the first official prom: Breakaway.

"It was fitting already because we are breaking away from the past traditions here in Turner County School," Hall said.

Another tradition that ended this year -- having two separate homecoming queens.

"You pick the homecoming queen for their personalities and being a role model," explained Roshunda Pierce, 16, as she waited to get her nails done for prom.

In the past, two queens were chosen -- one white, one black.

But not everyone in the town of 4,400, famous for its peanuts and Fire Ant Festival, was breaking with the past.

The "white prom" still went on last week.

"We did everything like a regular prom just because we had already booked it," said, Cheryl Nichols, 18, who attended the dance.

Nichole Royal, 18, said black students could have gone to the prom, but didn't.

"I guess they feel like they're not welcome," she said.

Nichols said while her parents were in support of the integrated prom, some of her friends weren't allowed to go.

"If they're not coming tonight it's because either they had to work and they couldn't get out of it or because their parents are still having an issue because they grew up in south Georgia," she said.

"I've asked, 'Why can't you come?' and they're like, 'My mommy and daddy -- they don't agree with being with the colored people,' which I think is crazy," she said.

Stone said he doesn't plan to stop the private proms.

"That's going to be up to the parents. That's part of being in America. If they want to do that for the kids, then that's fine," he said.

Looking toward the future

Outside the prom on Saturday, parents and relatives of students talked as the students filed into the Turner Civic Center.

"If they are picking so much for it to be united, why was there a prom last week for the white, when they are supposed to be united for tonight?" asked Lisa Hall.

Valerie McKellar echoed that sentiment as she watched white and black students pose together.

"That is so fake. There is nothing real about that," she said.

"That's just like you're cooking a half-baked cake, putting the icing on it, and when you cut the cake, the cake ain't no good. That's how this prom is," she said.

McKellar said the prom was a good step, but more needs to be done.

"There is a time and season for all things, and right now it's time for Turner County to make a change."

A success in the students' eyes

Inside the auditorium, students put the controversy aside and danced for hours. Stone said he was pleased with the outcome. About 150 students, including some dates from other schools, attended.

Students leaving the prom praised the evening.

"We been separated for a while. I sure appreciate how the school got all of us together, and we had a blast" said John Holmes, 16.

Aneisha Gipson, who was crowned prom queen, said the night could not have been better.

"Amazing. It was absolutely amazing. It was perfect."

Superintendent Ray Jordan said he couldn't be more proud of Stone and his students.

"If I could write this story it would be a story of celebration of students making a difference for themselves and for future students. I believe they wanted to leave their mark, and I certainly believe they've done that."

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Students pose for pictures at the Turner High School prom Saturday.

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