July 24, 2006
Leesburg -- More than 30 Americus women are telling their story of injustice during the Civil Rights movement, 43 years after it happened.
In 1963 the girls, some younger than their teens, were locked up after a violent march in the streets of Americus. For 45 days the girls were kept in the Leesburg Stockade, not knowing where they were, or what would happen to them.
Sandra Mansfield and Carol Seay say walking into the Lee County Public Works building on the Leslie Highway still affects them, every time they come. "It's so hard, coming in. Feel like I'm suffocating when I get in here."
But Mansfield says something inside her keeps bringing her back. "I find myself stopping here constantly. I park out there. All the guys know me here. Because it feels like a part of me is still here."
The old building was called the Leesburg Stockade in the summer of 1963, when Mansfield, Carol Seay and about 30 other young girls were held there for 45 days by Police.
They were 12 years old. Both were arrested during violent Civil Rights Marches in Americus in July. They were held first in jails in Americus, to sent to Dawson for one week.
Sandra said, "They called them back and told them to 'come and get their niggers.' They were tired of us because we was singing freedom songs."
One night more than 30 young black girls were herded into a truck, and driven to this building. Seay said "We had no idea where we was."
"We were hoping to go home, but we were told we were going to be taken out one by one and killed. So everyday we lived in fear also," Mansfield said.
The girls slept in the summer heat on the concrete floor, shared one toilet, and were fed only undercooked hamburgers. "I really in my heart feel like they was planning on killing us, when it died down, and nobody knew where we were. Because it took forever for someone to find us," Sandra said.
Finally in September photographer Danny Lyons, a 20-year-old college student working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, was sneaked to the stockade to take pictures. "Some of us distracted the guard in order for him to take the pictures," Sandra said. "He took the pictures from the cell window and he even went around the back and took the bathrooms and stuff."
Lyons' pictures were entered into the congressional record in September by Senator Harrison Williams, and given to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. Soon the girls were taken back to Americus, and released.
"If it wasn't for Danny Lyons, a Jewish white guy, coming down from the northern states to risk his life," Carol Seay said. "Had he been caught, at that time, he would have been a dead soldier too."
Mansfield and Seay went on marching for Civil Rights, but never talked about the Leesburg Stockade. "We would see each other, but we would never talk about it. Never said anything about it," Sandra said.
Until now, 43 years later, the "Stolen Girls" as they are now being called, are finally telling their story. "That's why we came out, because we wanted children to know what it took for them to have what they have today. The jobs, the education," Sandra said.
As they tell their story, they stress that it was the young people, even 12-year-olds, carrying the torch in the Civil Rights Movement in South Georgia. "I think at that age it was too young to even think about fear," Seay said.
"They had no fear," said Mansfield. "The older people had fear. But the children paved the way."
Today Mansfield works in transportation for the elderly and sick. Seay is a minister and teacher, both still in Americus. And they say they have no regrets about what they went through. "It was worth it, it was worth it," Mansfield said.
"if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do nothing different, nothing," said Carol Seay.
Unsung members of the civil rights movement, finally sharing their story, of the Stolen Girls held at the Leesburg Stockade in 1963.
After they were released from the Leesburg Stockade, both Sandra Mansfield and Carol Seay continued marching during the civil rights movement.