Hidden Behind Bars — 52 Years Ago
I was one of the girls who was arrested and taken to the Leesburg, Georgia Stockade for two and one half months for attempting to buy a ticket to the Martin Theater at the white ticket box. Our true story has never been told about our arrest during the years when we were only 9 to 12 years of age.
I was fourteen when I heard about Dr. King's message for racial equality. I remembered listening to him on the radio and watching him on television. Dr. King's message and spiritual voice inspired me to join the march for freedom. The mass meetings I attended were highly spirited and inspirational and there was no turning back as I truly believed at an early age that everyone should have the right to freedom. I became a faithful young foot soldier for equal rights.
I did not realize how dangerous the situation was at the time. Many young people died during the 1963 movement. I attended several mass meetings at the Friendship Baptist Church before the final peaceful march to purchase a movie ticket with other marchers at the front entrance of the Martin Theater in downtown Americus. Blacks during that time were not allowed in the front entrance of the theater. After the cashier refused to sell us tickets, policemen were called and arrested everyone who participated in the march, regardless of age and gender.
We did not commit any crimes, break any laws or violate any rules for the punishment that we received in 1963 by the Americus City Officials. We never received any formal or written charges. On a late Saturday afternoon in July 1963, we were placed in a long dark transfer truck and hauled to the Dawson, Georgia Jail. The next day, we were transported to the Lee County Stockade. We were held for two or more months without sufficient food or water. We are still living with the memories of this nightmare and would welcome a sense of closure.
After my release from the Stockade, I never mentioned my experience about the Stockade to anyone until recently. Occasionally, I would see some of the girls when coming back home after spring break from college. But we would never stop and talk about our experiences in the stockade. I know in my heart that we made a big difference. I have no regrets concerning my efforts for equality.
I never got a chance to personally meet Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., but I believed in his mission for equal rights for all. I looked up to him as "my hero." Dr. King made a difference in my life and in the lives of millions throughout the world because of what is taking place today. I am truly grateful for his spiritual guidance and the significant differences he has made to improve our freedom and human rights in today's society.
Shirley Green-Reese, Ph.D.
[See Americus GA Movement & "Seditious Conspiracy" and Georgia on My Mind ~ The Leesburg, GA, Stockade for background information and photos.]