LEESBURG — The Georgia Historical Society, in partnership with the Lee County High School Beta Club, Lee County High School AP English Program and First Monumental Faith Ministries, dedicated a new Civil Rights Trail historical marker on Friday recognizing the Leesburg Stockade and the girls held there in 1963.
The marker discusses the role of mass media in sharing the struggle for civil and human rights across the country and the world, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee photographs released nationwide of the girls being held in the stockade.
This is the first marker on the Georgia Civil Rights Trail located in Lee County.
Lee County Schools Superintendent Jason Miller, Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn, Shirley Green-Reese, Danny Lyon and Georgia Historical President CEO W. Todd Groce were among those who took part in the ceremony, along with the Lee County Middle School Girls Choir and the family members of the 1963 Leesburg Stockade Girls.
“It teaches our students, here today and those that follow, that history happens right outside our front door,” Miller said. “The stockade will be a lasting monument. Our plans are to make this into a teaching tool.”
Groce said markers are one of the ways the society preserves history, and that the events in the stockade were instrumental in sparking change.
In his remarks, he repeated the saying: “How can the future be what it ought to be if we don’t tell history how it actually happened?”
“This marker is not the end, not the last word, it is the beginning,” Groce said.
Hubbard is a member of First Monumental Faith Ministries, and was there Friday speaking on her church’s behalf.
“(This occasion) has special meaning to me because I am a native of Americus (where many of the girls were taken from before going into the stockade),” she said. “I knew all these ladies all those years ago. We are shining a light for all of (the public) to see.”
Quinn confessed to not knowing anything about the stockade and the plight the girls went through until he went online and looked it up. He expressed remorse.
“I am so sorry, but now we have a sign so everyone knows what you went through,” Quinn said.
GHS’s Georgia Civil Rights Trail initiative focuses broadly on the economic, social, political and cultural history of the civil rights movement. Specifically, roadside historical markers tell the story of the movement in Georgia by guiding audiences to the sites where history happened, inviting them to stand on the ground where struggles and events took place.
The CRT highlights significant events from communities around the state to illustrate the overarching themes of education, leadership, massive resistance and white backlash, desegregation and voting rights.
The marker reads:
”The Leesburg Stockade
Georgia Civil Rights Trail
”In July 1963, a group of adolescent African-American girls were incarcerated in the Lee County Stockade following arrest during the Civil Rights Movement. The girls were held in a single cell lacking proper plumbing, running water, bedding, and sanitary supplies. Because their families were not initially told their location and the girls never faced formal charges, they became known as the Leesburg Stockade Stolen Girls. Their plight was captured and shared through the photography of Danny Lyon of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC’s distribution of the photos in Jet magazine and the SNCC newsletter, Student Voice, led to the girls’ release in mid-September 1963. The use of photojournalism and mass media in the Movement allowed Americans on a broad scale to witness and empathize with the struggle for human and civil rights.
”Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, Lee County High School Beta Club, Lee County High School AP English Program, and First Monumental Faith Ministries.”
The marker was applied for by Colby Pines, a native to the Leesburg area who now lives in California. He said he learned about the stockade and its history two years ago from a Georgia Public Broadcasting story on the stockade.
At that point, he said he felt a responsibility to help preserve a civil rights landmark.
“How could I have not known about this?” Pines said. “I knew I couldn’t change the past, but I could do it for the future.”
The story of the stockade began to get national attention after the GPB piece ran in July 2016. Two of the stockade girls, including Green-Reese, had shared their story with The Albany Herald a few months earlier.
The family members in attendance, while recording the events on Friday, were in tears at the marker’s unveiling. Some did not know about what happened in the summer of 1963 until many years later.
In the summer of 1963, a group of 15 girls was held captive in the stockade facility, which still stands and is located across the street from the Lee County High School Ninth Grade Campus. It was used for some time as a Public Works building. The girls lived in conditions that included roaches, dirty floors, blood-stained blankets and no running water.
There was no toilet tissue, and broken glass on the floor. The youngsters were detained as a result of a peaceful protest, and it cost them two months of their freedom.
They have become known as the 1963 Leesburg Stockade Girls. Today, eight of these women are still living.
Opal Cannon was an educator in Lee County in 1963.
“I regret I didn’t know about it and I don’t know anybody who would not have said: ‘This is wrong,’” Cannon said. “This is a good county with a good reputation where folks of all races (get along). We want it to stay that way.”
Reese, an Americus native who acts as a spokeswoman for the group, was 13 when she went into the stockade after a truck picked up the group — first taking the girls, all ranging in age from 12-15, to Dawson before going to Leesburg because the jail in Americus was full.
All of this was done without their parents knowing their whereabouts.
Lyon was 22 when he took the photographs that made the girls famous, sparking a chain of events leading to their release after 60 days.
“History is a slippery beast,” he said at the ceremony. “There were huge victories accomplished by the civil rights movement. We (at SNCC) were radicals and wanted to change the world.
“We need more civil rights markers. We need more preservation.”
For his contribution to the events in 1963, Lyon received a plaque on Friday. His passion as a journalist has compelled him to tell the truth unfiltered.
It was this that led him to taking the photos at the stockade, without the permission of those charged with guarding it.
“Because the answer would have been ‘no,’” Lyons said. “We would not be here without these photos.”