While struggling for justice and racial equality during the 1963 Civil Rights Movement in Americus Georgia, fifteen (15) black girls between the ages of twelve and fifteen were illegally held in captivity in an old Civil War Era abandoned stockade building in the City of Leesburg, Georgia. They were held hostage in an unsafe and inhumane environment for more than two months not knowing where they were or what would happen to them. These girls were arrested and locked up as prisoners after a violent civil rights march that broke out in the streets of Americus, Georgia.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE:
To bring exposure and recognition to one America's darkest moments during the 1963 Civil Rights Movement in Americus, Georgia when 15 young school-aged black girls (ranging in ages 12-15) were held hostage in an old stockade building located in a woody & unknown area in Leesburg, Georgia for more than two months. The girls were only provided with four (4) hamburgers daily. They were not given water, soap, towels, toilet tissue, beds, pillows, sheets, blankets and beds. They had no sink with faucets, a shower head and commode that did not work. The young girls slept on the hard, cold, dirty cement floor of the stockade every day & night. The barred windows had broken pieces of dangerous glass with no protection shields to prevent various insects from entering the stockade.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this information for the ten living Stockade women and, hopefully, peace for the five deceased Leesburg stockade women and their families who are constantly reminded of the sacrifices their children made in 1963 for justice and equality for all in today's society. We are prepared to share the impact of the 1963 Civil Rights Movement had on our lives in 1963 and would like to receive our long & overdue formal honors and recognitions from the State of Georgia.
From its very start, young people and students have played an integral part in the Americus-Sumter County's Civil Rights Movement marching for social justice and equality. The young girls were taken from Americus, Georgia on July 15, 1963 during their initial arrest along with other older & younger protesters and transported by a transfer truck to a jail 25 miles away in Dawson, Georgia for one night without notifying their parents.
We were locked up after a peaceful civil rights rally march from Friendship Baptist Church to the Martin Theater in Americus, Georgia to purchase tickets to the white entrance. Black individuals were not allowed to purchase tickets at the front office. Blacks were only allowed to purchase tickets at the back side office and walk down a dark alley to enter the Theater. Blacks were only allowed to sit in the upper balcony level of the theater and while the white people were seated in the lower levels of the theater.
The girls & other protesters did not receive any food or water while jailed in Dawson, Georgia. Early the next morning, on July 16, 1963, the 15 girls were transported again in a paddie wagon truck and taken another 25 miles away from their home in Americus, without notice to their parents and taken to the Leesburg, stockade in Leesburg, Georgia where they were held hostage until the middle of September 1963.
The stockade had been closed for decades and the living conditions were inhumane and unsafe. Their young lives were in grave danger. They were not charged for any illegal or criminal acts. The girls were young, innocent, determined and frightened young black girls who did not know anything about where they were located and why they were being held hostage in an inhumane environment.
We were very concerned about what would happen to us in an unknown location without our parents who were not informed prior to our arrest until weeks later.
Parents and concerned citizens frantically searched for information on the girls and their location, but inquires fell on deaf ears. The young girls' civil and human rights were denied and violated. They were arrested illegally and the girls endured psychological, physical, mental, environmental and health-related abuses. They were subjected to torturous, degrading and inhumane treatment every day for more than two months.
While struggling for racial equality during the 1963 Civil Rights Movement in Americus, Georgia, we were illegally held in captivity in an old concrete stockade built during the 1940's and located in a woody area of Leesburg, Georgia approximately 25 miles from our home in Americus. During the first two days in the stockade, we did not receive any food or water. On the third day, each of the girls were provided with only four barely cooked hamburgers or four lightly cooked egg sandwiches every day. The only water to drink came from an old contaminated and rusted shower head that constantly dripped very slowly and did not produce enough water to drink or take a shower for two months. There were no faucets or sink to use for sanitation purposes.
There was an old, rusted and moldy toilet that did not flush. The stockade was very dirty when the girls initially entered the place and the odor was horrible. The girls did not have any change of clothing, tooth brush, tooth paste, wash cloths, soap, cleaning supplies, and toilet tissue or paper towels. The girls were not given any personal hygiene or medical supplies, beds, sheets, pillows or blankets while being detained in the stockade.
They slept on the hard, dirty and cold cement floor every day and night without a blanket or pillow. The iron-barred windows were clustered with dangerous broken glass pieces. We had no protection to prevent mosquitoes, roaches, and other insects from entering the stockade through the barred windows and doors. A diamond-back rattlesnake was spotted early one morning on the floor of the stockade by several of the girls.
During the days and nights, we girls prayed all the time and we sang freedom songs to keep our faith and spirit in God's hand.
They were young girls who were afraid, unprotected and unsafe with the horrible living conditions and our unknown location in Leesburg, Georgia. The girls' parents were not informed or aware at the time of their children's arrest or their location which was miles away from their home.
During 1963, while the girls were still incarcerated in the Leesburg stockade, Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail inspired a growing national civil rights movement. During the same year, on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a massive March on Washington, DC. where he delivered his now famous I Have a Dream, speech which became an enduring symbol of his legacy and influence. Dr. King's foremost tactics of active nonviolence (sit-ins, protest marches) had put civil rights squarely on the national agenda.
Danny Lyon, a white Jewish male from New York City was hired by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963 as their staff photographer in Atlanta, Georgia to take pictures of the Movement. Danny initially was given orders by SNCC leaders Julian Bond, John Lewis and James Forman, SNCC's Executive Secretary to go to Leesburg, Georgia and take pictures of the girls who were being held hostage and sleeping on the floor in the stockade. The pictures were taken in late August 1963 prior to the March on Washington, which was on August 28, 1963. On August 23, 1963, Dr. Shirley Green-Reese and the girls celebrated her birthday in the stockade.
After sneaking around the stockade building and taking pictures, Danny returned to SNCC's Atlanta Headquarters with the single roll of 35 mm film (about twenty exposures) and developed the film himself in the SNCC's office bathroom. After processing the photos, SNCC workers rushed to publicize the girls' plight. The first picture appeared in the 1963 SNCC's newspaper, "The Student Voice" says Julian Bond who also worked as one the executives with SNCC.
Bond further indicated that they mailed the pictures to black newspapers all over the country. One image appeared in a September 1963 issue of Jet magazine, along with an article, "Georgia Marchers Kept in Filthy, Stench-Filled Jail." On September 14, 1963, the front page headline of the Chicago Defender newspaper read, "Kids Sleeping on Jail Floor: Leesburg Hellhole."
The printed pictures highlighted the living conditions and the significant threats to the girls' health and living environment. A group picture of the girls has been shown in many places throughout the world without any known names or faces attached to them. Verna Hollis, one of the girls in the picture is seen sitting on the floor of the stockade among others in the group. She was 15 and pregnant at the time. She too was only provided with four barely cooked hamburgers or four egg sandwiches daily. She too did not receive any medications, cleaning supplies or sufficient food and clean water on a daily basis. Today, Verna's son, Joseph Jones is a disabled American Veteran who has served three years in the Marines and three years in the United States Army. He presently lives in Americus, Georgia.
Bond and others stated that Lyon's photos also came to the attention of United States Senator, Harrison A. Williams, Jr. [D-NJ] who was a SNCC supporter and who later entered them into the Congressional Record. The pictures reflected indisputable proof of the girls' horrific living conditions.
According to Danny, the girls were released the next day. He also indicated that the pictures were widely reproduced and also [included] in The Movement by Lorraine Hansberry which was the photo history of the movement.
During the 1963 Children's Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama on a Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion killed four young school-aged girls (Addie Mae Collins, age 14; Cynthia Wesley, age 14; Carole Robertson, age 14; and Denise McNair, age 11) who were attending church for Sunday school. The Leesburg Stockade girls were similar in ages 12-14 and they were held hostage during the same year and time of the bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. The FBI sent agents to investigate the Alabama case and four suspects were identified. It took nearly 40 years for the four men were brought to justice.
On the other hand, it took 52 years for the Leesburg Stockade women to band together and ready to share their untold and hidden stories to the world. The Leesburg stockade has not received any honors or recognitions from the local, state or national officials since their release for the horrible mistreatment and violent situation they had to encounter in 1963 as young school-aged children marching for equality. The girls did not commit any legal crimes and were jailed without any legal charges. The arresting officers never gave the girls reasons why they were being arrested.
The women who were young girls in 1963 and who are alive today are:
Dr. Shirley Green-Reese
Dr. Carol Barner-Seay
Billie Jo Thornton-Allen
Among the list of women who were also in the stockade and now deceased are:
Annie Lou Ragans- Laster
VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The Georgia girls were abused by the local judicial systems and governments in Americus, Dawson, and Leesburg, Georgia. The State and local governmental officials were obligated to protect the young girls' economic, social and cultural rights as well as their civil and political rights. Governments are responsible for the mental and physical abuse committed against children by their city officials, and are obligated to take positive measures to correct and prevent abuses against children, whether in the community or in the family.
The school-aged girls who were jailed for months are entitled to all rights guaranteed by the International Human Rights framework and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that involves six core human rights treaties. They are:
These treaties are important tools for holding governments accountable for the respect for, protection of, and realization of the rights of children and individuals as a whole in this country. A child has been defined in the Convention as any person under the age of eighteen. The human rights basic standards set minimum entitlements and freedoms that should be respected by the government regardless of race, color, gender, religion, origin and wealth. Human rights are inherent and they belong to all individuals as a result of their common humanity. It is evident that the fundamental interests of a child lie in the right to nutritious food, shelter, primary health care, and education.
The Stockade Girls' fundamental interests and human rights were violated 52 years ago. They were not afforded special protection and the necessary human care during their entire imprisonment in the Dawson, Georgia's jail and the Leesburg, Georgia's stockade building. At the time of their imprisonment, these girls were 12 to 15 years old. Innocent adolescents who were marching peacefully for racial equality during the 1963 Civil Rights Movement in Americus, Georgia.
Today, the young ladies are speaking out and telling their stories about their experiences in the Lee County stockade after 52 years in hope of getting closure and the recognition for the injustice they received for marching peacefully for racial equality during the 1963 Civil Rights Movement in Americus, Georgia. The young ladies who were jailed are ready to tell the stories of their untold mistreatment as young black school-aged girls then and who are women today after 52 years. The women have formed together as a unified voice to tell their long overdue and hidden stories of their illegal imprisonment, abuse, degrading and inhumane living environment. During this time, the girls were innocent, determined and very frightened.
Former President John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 only two months after the girls were released from the stockade. The Stockade girls were arrested on July 15, 1963 and held in captivity until middle of September 1963. Julian Bond (1964) noted in one of his many books on the Civil Rights Movement that "although the cell door opened to girls in the Leesburg stockade in September 1963, but still the girls were not free in 1994."
The majority of the Stockade women's dreams to achieve their full potential in life were hindered by the violence, abuse and mistreatment they suffered unlawfully in 1963. Some of the women were able to overcome the horrible situation since their release from the stockade. The majority of the ladies have moved forward with their lives to accomplish some of their dreams while other women have experienced some major challenges with health issues (disabilities), educational opportunities, livelihood and employment.
Today, the courageous and brave young ladies are speaking out as "ONE" in a unified voice after 52 years with the hope of bringing closure and perhaps peace. The girls' human and equal rights were abused and violated which has affected most of the women's lives today. For 52 years, the true story has not been addressed, resolved or exposed to the State of Georgia.
Thank you for taking the time to read and understand this true 52-year old hidden and untold story about the 1963 Civil Rights Movement Story in Americus, Georgia, Dawson, Georgia and Leesburg, Georgia.
I am available to meet with you, if additional information is needed. You may contact me through the contact information provided here. Thank you very much & Happy Holidays!
All the Best,
Shirley Green-Reese, Ph.D.
Civil Rights Activist at the age of 14 Independent Scholar/ Educator/ Florida State University
Americus City Councilwoman, District 5
President of Honorable Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter's & Americus' Boys & Girls Club's Board of Directors
One of the 1963 Leesburg Stockade's Women
Copyright © Shirley Green-Reese 2015
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