Principal Apologizes For Alluding To Slavery With 1776 Prom Theme

A high school involved in controversy in the past is now in trouble for offending African-American students with a prom ticket celebrating early America.

A high school principal in New Jersey is apologizing for sending out prom tickets that told students to “party like it's 1776."

Cherry Hill High School East Principal Dennis Perry said he regrets offending students with the 1776 prom theme. Adding that he’s particularly sorry to black students, Perry explained he didn’t initially realize the wording would offend anyone.

"It was insensitive and irresponsible not to appreciate that not all communities can celebrate what life was like in 1776," the principal’s letter read. “I especially apologize to our African American students, whom I have let down by not initially recognizing the inappropriateness of this wording."

On the tickets, the school asked students to “party like it’s 1776,” reminding African-American teens of the history of slavery and how many of their ancestors experienced unspeakable and inhumane conditions in Colonial America.

To Danny Elmore, vice president of the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association, this mistake was made because minorities were not actively participating in the school’s decision-making process.

“We lose out when we do not know who our neighbor is,” Elmore said. “Talk about it with people before you take an action and we won’t have this happen.”

To the attorney and civil rights advocate, the concerns have nothing to do with celebrating independence -- quite the contrary.

"We really have to focus on finally bringing to light a history that’s been hidden. … Part of our history was very raw and very wrong," he said.

Using 1776 and the American Revolution as a theme came about after the school picked the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia as the location for the prom. Still, the school’s leadership could have approached the theme differently if they did not want to offend any of their students.

According to the principal, “safeguards” will now be put in place so that a diverse group of individuals can vet the information being distributed by the school.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Cherry Hill East has been involved in controversy regarding race relations and American history.

Last year, school officials announced that students were performing the “Ragtime” musical without the racial slurs that are part of the original work. But after some people complained that omitting the wording used originally would “sanitize” the play, the school decided to perform the musical as written.

It’s clear that Cherry Hill East has a problem engaging with students of all backgrounds, otherwise, the decision to send offensive messages with its prom tickets wouldn’t have been made. Thankfully, the principal realized he made a mistake.

We hope that the school’s new approach will help to make the institution a more welcoming place to all students.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Brian Snyder 

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