Leesburg Stockade Girls to be part of Smithsonian publication
By BETH ALSTON
AMERICUS — A local civil rights story will become a part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Americus’ Shirley Green-Reese, Ph.D., one of the young black girls held in the Leesburg jail in the summer of 1963, received a letter recently from Lonnie G. Bunch, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
In the letter Bunch says the museum has recently selected rhe 1963 Danny Lyon photograph of Green-Reese and the 14 other girls inside the Leesburg stockade to include in a museum publication — Double Exposure: African American Women — a collection of photos focusing “on the central role of women and girls in African American communities. Through the book’s widespread distribution, we are able to introduce the Leesburg Stockade Girls to audiences nationwide and to future generation.”
Bunch also writes, “The National Museum of African American History and Culture is dedicated to documenting the Civil Rights Movement and the stories of individuals — adults and children — whose acts of courage in helping to bring about social change have goe unrecognized. The story of the Leesburg Stockade Girls is an historic event that we realize warrants national attention today. Through our publications, we have already begin to record this story.”
The girls were incarcerated after their participarion in a peaceful march from the Friendship Baptist Church to the Martin Theater in downtown Americus in July 1963. They ranged in age from 12-15 and upon attempting to buy tickets at the movie theater’s white entrance, they were taken into custody by local police.
The group of girls were taken to Dawson overnight before being moved to Leesburg, without their parents’ knowledge. They would remain in the stockade for two months where they were fed very little, had no running water and were provided no means of hygiene. They slept on a bare, dirty cement floor among insects and snakes.
Lyon, then a member of the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, managed to gain entry into the stockade to get the photos of the girls, which were later published and led to their release.
In April 2015, Green-Reese brought several of the “girls” back for a program of recognition at Georgia Southwestern State University. Danny Lyon was among the guests.
On March 7, 2016, Green-Reese and two other of the Stockade Girls were recognized at the state capitol with a resolution from state Rep. Mike Cheokas, R-Americus.
“Last year, I sponsored HR 661 which recognized and honored the 1963 Leesburg Stockade Women, heroes of the American Civil Rights Movement,” Cheokas read from the well. “These 15 young girls from the ages of 12 to 15 dared to speak out against injustice and racial inequality and were illegally arrested and held captive in an abandoned stockade in Leesburg, Georgia. For over two months, these brave adolescent girls endured horrendous hardships while their parents suffered the nightmare of not knowing where their daughters were nor if they were even still alive. Three of these brave young girls, now women today, came to the Capitol to be recognized. Dr. Shirley Reese, Ph.D, Carroll Barner Seay, Emmaene Kaigler Streeter and her son, John Streeter, and Jocque McCollum, a relative of Shirley Green-Reese.”
This received a standing ovation from the members in the Chamber.
Green-Reese, now a member of the Americus City Council, plans to publish a history of that period in their lives.
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