Visitors pour into Americus for Boys & Girls event Saturday

Published 4:58 pm Friday, April 3, 2015

From Staff Reports

AMERICUS — Hundreds of visitors are expected in Americus this weekend from far and wide to attend the Boys & Girls Club of Americus-Sumter County’s program to commemorate the bravery of the 1963 Leesburg Stockade Girls. This program will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Storm Dome of Georgia Southwestern State University.

The life and legacy of the 15 young black female adolescents held hostage in the Leesburg Stockade will be commemorated. Those living are Shirley Green-Reese, Willie Mae Smith-Davis, Carol Barner-Seay, Melinda Jones-Williams, Verna Hollis, Billie Jo Thornton-Allen, Diane Dorsey-Bowens, Lula Westbrooks-Griffin, Emmarene Kaigler Streeter and Laura Ruff-Saunders. Those deceased are Pearl Brown, Mattie Crittenden, Sandra Russell-Mansfield, Annie Lou Ragans-Laster and Gloria Westbrooks. These girls, ages 11-15, played an instrumental role in shaping the civil rights movement in Americus, Dawson and Leesburg during the 1960s.

The survivors of this horrendous ordeal will share how the intricacies of their illegal imprisonment and abuse impacted their lives. Shirley Green Reese said the event is fittingly being held on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to published reports in 1963, the girls were standing in front of the Martin Theater in Americus when they were taken away to the Lee County Stockade where they remained for two months during the sweltering July and August. The girls’ families did not know where their daughters were. They survived on four hamburgers a day and had inadequate bathroom facilities and couldn’t even take a bath. They slept on the floor among roaches and debris.

Finally, a photographer, Danny Lyon, managed to get inside the stockade and documented the girls and their horrendous living conditions. His shocking images would lead to the girls’ release. Lyon, who now lives in New York City, will be in attendance at the event.

Keynote speaker is from the Smithsonian Institute, Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din, museum specialist. The National Museum of African-American History and Culture, is to open in January 2016.

Others on the guest list for the April 4 event include various pubic office holders and several academians. The Albany Civil Rights Institute Singers are also on the program. Yolanda Amadeo of WALB Albany will be emcee.

The event is free and open to the public. Funds are being raised by selling sponsorships in the printed program and accepting donations. The programs will on sale for $5 each at the event.

“We’re raising money to try to keep the doors of the Boys & Girls Club open,” Reese said. “This will be uplifting program; this will not be a sad event,” Reese said.