Medieval Times, 2017, stoneware
One of the questions you will be asked this evening is to share your first memory of when you realized race was more than skin color. This is my memory. From 1st to 7th grade, I went to a private Christian school in rural South Georgia. Our mascot: The Crusaders! A K-12 school with 300 students, it was all white. Our janitors, a husband and wife team, were black. Her senior year, my sister invited to prom three friends from the public school - her white, black, and Philippine friends. When school admin found out about this, she was sent to the Headmaster’s office and asked three questions: where do they live, what do their parents do, and what race are they? This was in 1996. Only her white friend was allowed to attend prom with her.
This private school was established in 1970, the same year that county’s public schools were desegregated. According to their mission statement on the website, the school was founded in "honor" of Robert Toombs. Toombs was a slave owner and founding member of the Confederacy. This school was nestled in Toombs County, Georgia, where from 1970 up until 2010, public high schools held separate proms for the black and white students. The county schools stopped sponsoring proms the year they were desegregated, instead allowing students to organize private (read: segregated) celebrations on their own. (This was a feature story in the NYT Magazine a few years back.)
This Christian institution stood behind a symbol that didn't mean what they meant, and yet was meant to mean what they never meant. A questionable symbol of faith or cleansing raised high to represent a Christian mission that was anything but.