If the authorities were truly concerned about the safety of the black students, they would not have met them with fire hoses and snarling dogs, said Bishop Calvin Woods, director of the Birmingham chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
It was Woods, who was a father with children at the schools, who sued to have graduation reinstated.
A court eventually ordered graduation must go on, and it did, though delayed. But prom never happened.
Shirley Holmes Sims had her copper-colored dress ready to go when she left school to participate in the Children's March. And copper-colored shoes to match.
They would go unworn, and be lost decades later in a tornado.
"We marched down that street and we were singing 'We Shall Overcome,'" Sims said. "You think back to it today, and it was truly worth it."
Righting a wrong
Ethel Arms has a line she uses when the topic of high school rites of passage and prom comes up: "We didn't have a prom because of the civil rights movement."
It puts the memory of 1963 in perspective and justifies the sacrifice.
Yet it doesn't change the fact that inside, she has always lamented that she never had that night.
Sure, there were more important things going on in Birmingham at the time, but she was just a teenager and wanted those experiences.
This time, Arms was on the "prom committee" that organized Friday's event. The small group gathered in a hotel room before the dance, laughing and reminiscing about the prom they never had. There would be no prom king and queen elected this time, but the theme of the dance summed up what the night was all about: "Finally, the Prom We Never Had."
Sims ironed her purple and gold dress as the women placed corsages on their wrists and waited for the limousines that would take them to the prom.
Amid the celebratory atmosphere, there were moments of reflection, and thoughts of those classmates who had passed away.
In a way, this party was a celebration of what they had endured and survived over the last 50 years, Thomas said.
"As we get older, everything behind us looks greater," she said.
The prom committee held hands and said a prayer before walking out of the room. This would be their night.
The prom was especially meaningful for Ethel Arms, as she and her high school sweetheart, Eugene, had been negotiating with their parents for permission to attend the prom when it was canceled in 1963. They had been trying to figure out where to find transportation to the dance, and how to earn the money to rent formal wear or buy a dress.
They later married, and when it came time for their children to attend proms, the couple put extra effort into making them special nights.
It wasn't until Friday night, though, in Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium, that Eugene Arms was finally able to take his own sweetheart to the prom.
"It's really a much more pleasant event because we can afford the attire, we have no problem getting back and forth," Eugene Arms said.
"It makes you appreciate everything when we were children," he continued. "The sacrifices people made."
Eugene Arms had attended rallies during the civil rights movement, but out of deference to his parents, he did not participate in the Children's March.
The students that did participate in the march faced dogs and water and arrests, he said.
"All we did was give up prom," he said.