While many whites say they still plan to attend next week's integrated prom, the decision to hold the whites-only prom this Friday saddened senior Gerica McCrary, who helped organize last year's dance.
"I cried," said McCrary, who is black. "The black juniors said, 'Our prom is open to everyone. If you want to come, come."'
Juniors are in charge of planning the prom each year and last year they decided to have just one dance - the first integrated prom in 31 years in the rural Georgia county 150 miles south of Atlanta.
Until then, parents and students organized separate proms for whites and blacks after school officials stopped sponsoring dances, in part because they wanted to avoid problems arising from interracial dating.
This year, a small number of white juniors decided they wanted a separate prom.
"They influenced the others," said McCrary, who plans to major in biology at Columbus State University. "They didn't vote on anything. They said, 'This is what we're going to do."'
The school has 439 students, 232 of them black. McCrary and a white friend passed out fliers informing students of all races that they would be welcome at the May 9 prom at nearby Fort Valley State University.
The private prom is Friday night 50 miles away in Columbus.
Erin Posey, a white senior, said the entire junior class joined together in hosting last year's prom, but this year's junior class wasn't as unified.
"I think a lot of seniors were disappointed," she said. "Now we have to choose between two groups of friends."
Posey plans to attend both proms.
"I had some white friends who were not going to the other (inclusive) prom," she said. "I wanted to have time with everybody. I'll have a lot of (black) friends there, too. A lot more of the seniors are going to be at the mixed one."
After school integration, separate proms were common in the rural South, but Taylor County was among the last to cling to the practice.
Glenda Latimore, a 1972 graduate, was in the first class to have separate black and white proms. Now her 16-year-old son, Gerard, is preparing for prom night.
As the black junior class president, her son helped organize the open-to-all prom. The class also has a white president.
"I would have liked to see it together this year," said Latimore, an outfielder on the school's baseball team. "My class would have, too. It just didn't happen this year."
Glenda Latimore said relatives in Philadelphia and New Jersey laugh when they read about Taylor County's prom. She said residents here are "nice and friendly," but they still have a problem with proms.
"It seems like it's something secret," she said. "The white people are afraid to speak up against the separation.
"But I went to a black prom and I had fun," she said. "It didn't kill me, so I tell my son, 'Just go to the prom and have fun. Don't come out hating anyone."'
By Elliott Minor