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Segregation Lives On In The South? Debutante Ball “Whites Only”?

debutante ball

The southern United States, historically, does not have the best reputation when it comes to it’s treatment (in all various meanings of the word, sadly) of black people, however, they also have become known for their unique traditions such as Mardi Gras, Southern cooking, and the Debutante Ball.

From slavery, to literally making themselves into an entirely different country for a few years during the American Civil War (for many reasons but one of which so that they could continue to keep African slaves), to segregation, it’s been a bumpy road, reputation-wise for this vast area of the United States.  It’s also a reputation that for years, the states have tried to correct.

There are beautiful traditions and culture to the southern states, of course – and that, thankfully, is what most will see should they ever visit this particular area.  The food is unique, and they maintain traditions, derived from the European population that originally settled the area, that the rest of the country does not.  One of those traditions is something called a “debutante ball”.

What are debutante balls?  Well, first a debutante, is, according to Wikipedia: A debutante or deb (from the French débutante, “female beginner”) is a girl or young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity and, as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal “debut” presentation. 

Wikipedia defines a debutante ball as: A cotillion or débutante ball in the United States is a formal presentation of young ladies, débutantes, to “polite society,” typically hosted by a charity or society. The ladies introduced can vary from the ages of 16 to 21 (younger ages are more typical of Southern regions, while older are more common place in the North) in some areas 15- and 16-year-olds are called “junior débutantes.”

While this is one of the more private cultural events, a recent Knoxville, Tennessee ball organizer, Anne Trent, has made the normally private function very public; by claiming in a local newspaper that the Debutantes participating in the ball must be unmarried, sophomores in college, oh… and white.

According to a report in The International Business Times:

Anne Trent, president of the East Tennessee Presentation Society, which sponsors the ball, later denied that she made the comment. “I wouldn’t want people to think I felt that way,” said Trent. “I did not say that because that is not in our bylaws. There is nothing in our bylaws to say that.”

Women receive an invitation to participate in the ball. “They are chosen for just being outstanding girls in their school, their church, athletics,” Trent said.

debutante ball

The Knoxville News Sentinel, which published the interview with Trent, has not addressed the controversy. The article read: “Trent says she does not see a problem with the event being segregated.” The newspaper did print a letter from a reader slamming the ball for its apparent racism.

“I really thought we in Knoxville were making progress on this racism thing. But Sunday was a wake-up call about how far we still have to go. I have to admit I am disappointed and a little depressed,” wrote public relations executive Cynthia Moxley. “This debutante thing is embarrassing. Not only is it wrong and shortchanges the debs themselves by not giving them the opportunity to get to know a diverse group of women, but it looks awful to anyone from outside our community who may be considering moving here or even bringing a business here.”

The East Tennessee Presentation Society presented 44 debutantes at its 53rd annual Dogwood Ball on March 28 at the Knoxville Marriott Hotel. The women all appeared to be white, according to pictures of the participants published by local media.

 

 

Royce Christyn
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