Time for a change?

Published 9:04 am Monday, October 17, 2011

Escambia County High School 2010 Homecoming Queens Corleia McGinnis, left, and Morgan Nichols pose with principal Zickeyous Byrd last year after being crowned.

The year 1971 was pivotal in Escambia County. As the state, and the country, struggled to acclimate themselvs to the post Civil Rights era, students in Atmore’s public schools integrated after years of racial segregation. Forty years later, most remnants of those challenging days are long gone, but repercussions of the fight for racial equality still resound in some peculiar ways.

One of the lingering effects of integration in Alabama will, once again, present itself next Friday night when ECHS’ two homecoming queens, one black and one white, are crowned during the halftime show of the Blue Devils’ football game against the Monroe County Tigers.

The practice of choosing two homecoming queens first started in the mid-1970s. Second-year ECHS principal Zickeyous Byrd, who has gained a reputation as an innovator in the Escambia County school system, said he has questions about the tradition of selecting two homecoming queens based on race.

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“I really haven’t talked to people who were around here when this started,” Byrd said. “But I’ve heard rumblings here and there that some people aren’t happy with it and we just wanted to see if this may be something that is outdated and needs to change.”

Byrd’s questions led to an atmoreadvance.com poll. According to the results, Byrd’s suspicions the two-queen system is in need of reform are right on target.

Of 100 people polled, 82 said the current practice should be done away with in favor of choosing only one homecoming queen, with race as a non-issue. Sixteen people voted that the current practice is still acceptable, while the remaining two were unsure.

Those in favor of a change said, in 2011, the school system should be long past separating students into racial categories.

Kelly Rolin Smith lives in the community. She said the time for change at ECHS is now.

“I think it should be about getting the most votes,” she said. “So no matter what color you are, if you get the most votes then you get the title. In other words, one is all that should be crowned.”

Katie Lowery Fowler graduated from W.S. Neal High School but now lives in Atmore. She echoed Smith’s sentiment.

“That is ridiculous,” Fowler said. “Everyone is created equal in God’s eyes.”

As ECHS’ 2011 homecoming quickly approaches, Byrd said he is anxious to hear the feedback from the community concerning the schools’ long-standing practice, which he believes is more about complacency than racial division.

“This has been going for a long time, and I think people are just used to it,” he said. “I’m just anxious to know how the community feels. With me not being here when it started and this being only my second year, it’s sometimes safe to leave well enough alone, but I just wanted to see what the public thinks about it.”

Escambia County Superintendent Billy Hines said the choosing of two queens was a practice initially established to maintain order in the racially sensitive era of the early 1970s. Hines said the tradition has simply continued to carry over due to it being the norm, but stressed it is not by any means a policy of the Escambia County Board of Education or of Escambia County High School.

“It’s just something that they choose to do mainly because it’s been that way for so long,” Hines said. “But it is certainly not policy, and they can make a change any time they want to.”

While no other high schools in Escambia County select both a white and black homecoming queen, similar practices are still in place elsewhere in the county. Officials at W.S. Neal High School said, while they choose only one homecoming queen, they do continue to select both a white and black maid for each class simply because “it has been that way for a long time.”

Although the majority of the Atmore public seem to oppose the current two-queen system, there are those who believe things are fine the way they are.

Byrd said the policy regarding the current homecoming queen practice can be changed depending on what students, teachers and community members think should be done. He added, while the tradition of selecting two queens has been around for decades, making a switch should be a non-issue for a school with little to no racial problems.

“Those are just issues that we just don’t have anymore,” Byrd said of racial tensions at ECHS. “We have more interracial relationships now then what we’ve ever had, I think. It’s just something that people don’t pay attention to.”

With homecoming 2011 just around the corner, only time will tell if a big change is on the horizon at ECHS or if tradition will trump popular opinion as the Blue Devils prepare to crown another homecoming queen – or queens.