My heart swelled with anticipation as I drove up to the campus of Valdosta State in Georgia. I was thrilled that my Auntie Florrie, now 88 years old, would share this celebration with me. This moment had finally come, “An Evening with the Queen,” and it was glorious! I was being honored as the first black homecoming queen at VSU – 38 years ago!
We were warmly greeted on our arrival by Kelli Williams and Ebone’ Janay, the leaders of the Black Student League at VSU, along with others from their team who worked tirelessly to make the evening so special. Kelli had found me on Facebook and set up the special evening. When we finally met, our connection was already there. We were happy to finally see each other face to face. What a blessing to also meet the third Black Homecoming Queen, Avraye Henry, crowned in 2010. She was a delight!
I still had my 38-year-old crown and placed it upon my head. In 1974, I was a 17-year-old sophomore at Valdosta State, and this same crown was placed upon my head as the school’s first black homecoming queen. I wore the crown with a thankful heart as I looked into the faces of the young African Americans in the room and remembered when.
The evening proceeded with a program obviously well-planned with a lot of work in my honor, including a special video tribute. Kelli welcomed everyone. There was delicious food. Ebone’ wrote a poem about me and read it. I was introduced and escorted to the podium where I shared thoughts on “Looking Back and Looking Forward.” I was asked to talk about what it was like for me to be the first Black Homecoming Queen at VSU, my involvement with the Black Student League during that time, its purpose then and how students could work together in unity within the League now.
Time for Q & A
After my speech, time was slated for questions and answers. I didn’t know this would be a part of the program, but moved full steam ahead anyway. The audience was gracious with their questions and patient as I sought to answer them thoughtfully.
Q: Did you have to campaign for the nomination? No, I was the only black candidate running so it was pretty easy to keep up with me. I was grinning.
Q: What prompted the Black Student League to nominate someone for the court? I honestly could not remember why the BSL decided to nominate someone, let alone me.
Q: Why did you have a sad face looking at your picture in the homecoming parade? When I saw the photo of my ride in the buggy with a pony led by a young man, I felt devalued. I’d never seen any queen being escorted this way in any parade. I remember the shock I felt when I got to the lineup for the parade and saw my ride. I graciously climbed in the buggy, afraid of the horse and hoping the young man had a tight rein on him. The signage also left something to be desired. Nevertheless, I rode down the street with a smile on my face while greeting the crowd. I couldn’t help wonder what they thought about their homecoming queen. Sigh . . .
Q: Would you repeat your action to stop the homecoming basketball game? I knew this question was coming. It’s what made headlines in the local newspaper.
Traditionally, as I knew it, the queen was recognized at the homecoming game. Halftime came and went and there was no public recognition. I thought, OK, and kept enjoying the game. But my friends were not so quick to let it go. They said I had to be recognized. I said it was really OK if I wasn’t. We left the game and walked around while deciding what to do. The decision was made to walk onto the basketball court and stop the ballgame to have the queen acknowledged. I was scared to death and they had to practically carry me onto the court. All the while I’m thinking, “My mama is going to kill me.”
There was booing and trash thrown on the court while we stood there. The president of the school came over to ask what the problem was. One spokesman said, “You did not recognize the homecoming queen.” He proceeded to do so amidst the booing and some clapping. Two of the top basketball players came over, hugged and kissed me. We walked off the court and headed to my room. I was still thinking, “My mama is going to kill me for this. I might as well go ahead and call her because I am sure this will be on the news.”
When I called her, I was astounded at her response. She said, “If that is what you felt you needed to do, then OK.” Was this my mama on the other end of the phone? I wonder now what else was going through her mind. Did she have a flashback to when she wanted to attend VSC as a graduate student and could not because she was black? She was told she could work on her masters in a correspondence course, but could not attend the school in person. Sigh . . .
So, after the basketball incident, I was interviewed by the Valdosta Times newspaper. The caption read, “Skip Thinks this all Happened for a Very Special Reason.” I had forgotten that I was placed on probation, along with a few others, until I came across the newspaper article that I’d saved. Some professors who were once friendly towards me changed. I understood and just kept it moving. Thank God I did move forward and graduated from nursing school.
A new crown
So after the Q & A, I was blessed with beautiful flowers, a gift bag and a new crown! As they re-crowned me, I received a standing ovation with a lot of cameras flashing. I couldn’t believe it: a new, beautiful crown after 38 years! After that, I was presented with a plaque by Dr. Calvin Walker from the African American Studies Department at VSU. After the program, I got a picture with the Black Student League and cut a cake made in my honor.
Wow! What a time of celebration. Words can’t adequately express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for His goodness and faithfulness to me. My Auntie Florrie said, “Your mother would be smiling.” I also thank the Black Student League of Valdosta State University in going all out for “Your Queen!”
After returning home and placing my gifts on the table, I found myself placing the new cross I’d bought and my crown near each other when I heard the Holy Spirit speak. He said, “Place your crown at the bottom of the cross.” Wow! I was thrilled that now I could place my earthly crown at the feet of Jesus! Did I say it is all about Him! Hallelujah!
P.S. Here is how a local TV news station reported on the event in “VSU Honors It’s First African-American Homecoming Queen.”
Thank you so much for coming out yesterday. It was truly an honor meeting (not personally) but getting a chance to even recognize someone that will forever be a part of my history here at VSU. Your story like many other African American women has inspired me to continue on my journey and to try my hardest at everything no matter what the odds are. You are such a humble and wonderful woman. I’m absolutely sure that you have made your mother and many others proud. I would love to meet with you one day when I return to Atlanta. Thank you again!
Thank you so much Ms. McDonald. Your words were so encouraging. I will definitely keep in touch. Tonight was great and I’m so happy you were able to share what you did with all of us.
Kearra wrote: “I had such a wonderful time hearing Ms. Skip McDonald speak tonight. I will definitely be keeping in touch. She gave me some encouraging words to keep in mind. For that I am so very thankful!”
Kelli wrote: “I had a wonderful time tonight with Ms. Skip McDonald!!! She is an amazing person and I can’t wait to see her again for our pillow talk!!!”
Eboné wrote: “Ms. Skip McDonald is such an amazing woman! Thanks to everyone who came out to show support for Valdosta State’s first black Homecoming Queen! =)”
Marsha wrote: “I remember that… It was the only basketball game that I ever went to… And, I remember walking out crying… I was So Proud of You. MMM”