Former “Leesburg Stockade Girl” Dr. Shirley Green-Reese shares her experience
ALBANY – Former Harvard professor George Santayana is believed to have said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. For this reason, the stories of those human beings who endured cruel treatment during the turbulent era of the Civil Rights Movement must be told time and time again for posterity so that future generations will not allow such atrocities to be perpetrated ever again.
One such story of injustice was told on Thursday, January 16, at the base chapel at the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.
Americus native Shirley Green-Reese, Ph.D, shared first-hand testimony of her experience as one of the “Leesburg Stockade Girls” to a group of approximately 200 people as part of a Martin Luther King, Jr. observance and celebration service.
In the summer of 1963, at the age of 13, Green-Reese, along with 14 other girls ranging from ages 12 to 15, were held captive in the stockade facility in Leesburg, Georgia. That facility still stands today and is located across the street from the Lee County High School Ninth Grade Campus.
“On July 15, 1963, I, along with 14 young black girls ranging again in ages 12 to 15, and approximately 200 or more demonstrators, were arrested and jailed for challenging segregation laws in Americus and Sumter County,” Green-Reese said.
She went on to explain how she and the rest of the children attempted to purchase movie tickets at the Martin Theatre, which was located on Forsyth Street in Americus. The girls attempted to purchase tickets at the ticket booth in the front part of the theatre, which was reserved for white patrons only. During that time, African Americans were not allowed to purchase movie tickets at the same ticket booth that white patrons could purchase tickets. They were also not allowed to enter through the same doors or sit in the same areas of the theatre where white patrons were allowed to sit. “We were only allowed to purchase movie tickets at the rear end of the building from a separate ticket box,” Green-Reese said.
As a result of challenging the law by attempting to purchase tickets at the white-only ticket box, the children were arrested without being formally charged and their parents had no knowledge of where they were being held.
“We did not commit any crimes. We did not break any laws or violate any rules for the horrific punishment we received.” Green-Reese said.
She, along with other children, was taken by truck to an unknown location in Dawson, GA where they were held overnight without food or water in a crowded jail with other demonstrators. Early the next morning, Green-Reese, along with 14 other girls, was transported to the stockade in Leesburg, GA, where they all endured inhumane conditions that included dirty floors, inadequate food and no access to running water, working toilets or showers.
“As young black girls ranging in ages 12 to 15, we endured many psychological, mental, physical and health-related problems during our deplorable detainment in the Leesburg Stockade,” Green-Reese said.
She went on to say that they were held in these conditions for approximately 60 days and that the authorities as to their whereabouts did not notify their parents until two weeks after their arrest.
The girls were held at the Leesburg Stockade from July 16, 1963 until the middle of September 1963. This structure still stands today and is located across the street from the Lee County High School Ninth Grade Campus.
During their incarceration, the girls had no visitors from anyone until a month into their confinement when Danny Lyon, a 21-year old photographer with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) found out about the girls’ whereabouts. Lyon was able to sneak on to the stockade grounds and took pictures of the girls held inside the jail. According to Green-Reese, the photographs were sent to several African American newspapers across the country. Lyon also submitted photographs to former New Jersey Democratic U.S. Senator and Civil Rights supporter Harrison Williams Jr., who entered the information into the National Congressional Record in Washington, D.C.
Green-Reese said that soon after that, an order was sent from Washington in mid-September 1963 demanding that the Leesburg city officials release the girls from the stockade. Their ordeal got the nation’s attention concerning the issue of civil rights. “Dr. King and thousands of demonstrators and the Leesburg Stockade Girls have made a tremendous difference in what is happening today in society,” Green-Reese said.
Dr. Green-Reese has since earned numerous awards and accolades. In 2016, those 14 “girls”, who are now women, were nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Green-Reese went on to earn her Bachelor of Science Degree from Savannah State University and her Master’s Degree from Georgia State University. She also earned her Ph.D from Florida State University and in 2017; she was the recipient of the “Fortitude Award” from the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
Dr. Green-Reese has served on various National College Athletic Association (NCAA) committees, such as the NCAA Championship Project Team, the NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship Committee and the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force.