'We suffered tremendously’: 1 of the ‘Leesburg Stockade Girls’ recalls experience

'We suffered tremendously’: 1 of the ‘Leesburg Stockade Girls’ recalls experience
The stockade in Lee County where the "Leesburg Stockade Girls" were held. (Source: WALB)

LEESBURG, Ga. (WALB) - Stories, especially from the Civil Rights Movement, shine a spotlight on how far we've come in a relatively short amount of time.

One of those is the tale of the Leesburg Stockade Girls.

The 15 girls were arrested in July 1963 in Americus for challenging segregation laws.

Their offense: trying to use the front entrance of the movie theater, instead of going in through the back.

They were never formally charged, but they were jailed, housed in squalid conditions for months.

“About right along here is where I was,” Dr. Shirley Reese said, pointing the area out during an interview with WALB.

The story of the Leesburg Stockade Girls shows age didn’t matter when it came to discrimination and inhumane treatment of African-Americans in the 60s.

“It was horrific living in this deplorable situation for 60 days without beds, water, toilet, shower.
We didn’t have anything but four barely cooked hamburgers per girl, per day.
No dessert no medical supplies, no cleaning supplies, we suffered tremendously,” Reese said.
Dr. Shirley Reese taking WALB on a tour through the stockade in Lee County where she was being held.
Dr. Shirley Reese taking WALB on a tour through the stockade in Lee County where she was being held. (Source: WALB)

Reese remembers a time when she and 14 other young girls were arrested. They had nothing with them but the clothes on their backs.

Danny Lyon took photos of the Leesburg Stockade Girls that tell a thousand words.

“I said take my picture," Reese said. "That’s why people are wondering you were smiling in jail in that situation.”

She wasn’t smiling because of her situation but just a 13-year-old happy to finally see someone.

Reese said they ended up spending 60 days locked away from family all because they were peacefully protesting the segregated movie theater in Americus.

“It started to get to me mentally, although I felt like I was strong at that time.
You know, we were helping one another but we all had to get in a situation, especially during the night time because we didn’t have any lights,” Reese said.

As she walked WALB through the old and dark stockade, she said over the years, it has changed.

“Nothing like this was here, it was an old broken down toilet, no sink and they had a runny shower,” Reese said.

One thing that has changed forever is the addition of the historical marker that preserves this piece of history, so their story is never forgotten. It was unveiled back in September with the help of Colby Pines.

“If you look at me, I don’t look like anyone who would be related to this story at all, other than the fact that I’m from the place where this terrible thing happened,” Pines said.

Pines grew up this in Leesburg and never knew this even happened, but knew he had a role to play.

“None of my friends or family, or even several of my teachers, weren’t even aware of it when I asked them about it. So, I just felt like I had to do something,” Pines said.

After almost three years, with the help of Reese and the Georgia Historical Society, this piece of history will never be forgotten.

While in the stockade with Reese, WALB asked what it was like to finally be free when she was released.

“I found myself sleeping on the floor when I got home, you know, I guess because it didn’t mean anything.
I was used to the bed anyways,” Reese said.

Said Pines: “Keep shining a light on injustice to tell the truth. That’s the only way we’re growing to grow it, to talk about things whether they’re fun to talk about or not."

Reese first shared her story in 2015. Now, she’s working to make sure the world never forgets the story of the Stockade Girls.

“I turned my incarceration to motivation,” she said.

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