Valencia Johnson experienced her fair share of hurdles before making history and becoming Newton County's first singly-appointed black homecoming queen in 1975.
The Covington resident endured relentless bullying during the early 70s when the county went through the slow process of integrated its public schools. Johnson was the only black girl in her seventh grade class and said she was targeted because of the color of her skin.
"It was the worse year of my life; I got it from both ends," Johnson said. "I've always been black, but I'm very light skin black and was targeted by black and white children."
One major revelation in Johnson's seventh grade year of how much of an outcast she really was occurred during a class photo when she was teased about her outfit.
"My mom had bought me this maxi dress skirt and another girl had one too, and everybody was like ‘oh your maxi skirt is so cute' but nobody would say my skirt was cute," she explained. "So, I asked another girl if my skirt was cute, and the other girl said nothing on black people is cute."
The torment from her peers continued and became so intolerable that her mother began to attend school with her. Johnson said her mother being there "really helped things out."
In her eighth grade year, Johnson said more black children came to her school, and the group of them stuck together.
"It was easier because I was seeing people I was already familiar with," she said. "It (bullying) basically kind of stopped."
Despite her troublesome seventh grade year, Johnson said she holds no grudges and believes the bullying was bred by fear rather than hate.
Fit to be a queen
In high school, Johnson worried less about fitting in and became comfortable at Newton County High School. She joined the cheerleading team, and in no time, was well-known among her peers. So much so, that in her senior year classmates urged her to run for homecoming queen.
"I think it was in my homeroom that everybody was like, ‘you run Ricky (her nickname in high school)'," she explained. "I didn't realize I had so many friends, so I said, ‘okay I guess I'll do it'."
When homecoming night arrived, Johnson said she was nothing but nerves.
"The whole homecoming court was on field and my knees were shaking to death, and I thought Lord will they ever called the names out," she explained. "They were calling out this name and thanking this person and that person, and then they finally called out my name. I was screaming and shaking and yelling. I was so excited."
Since being crowned, Johnson earned several degrees. In 1980, she received a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Georgia College and State University, followed by a degree in Education and Human Services from Mercer University. She also has Master's degree in Cognitive and Behavior Disabilities and a Specialist degree in Technology Management and Administration from Nova Southeastern University.
Johnson said she wants to use her degrees to help people, especially those who are bullied.