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Girls Imprisoned For Civil Rights Work To Get Historical Marker

Photographer Danny Lyon was working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta when, barely out of his teens himself, he was sent to Americus to investigate rumors of the jailed girls from the city.

The Leesburg Stockade is a squat, block brick building where about 15 girls were imprisoned in the 1960s for their role in integrating a movie theater in Americus.

Surrounded by buses overflowing from the Lee County Schools bus barn, it's easy to miss. That will change in September when the stockade gets its own state historical marker, making it a part of the Georgia Historical Society’s Civil Rights Trail.

Some of the girls were already veterans of the mass meetings and organizing that was a part of the Civil Rights Movement in and around Sumter County in the early 1960s.

"In that time in the city it was a very violent civil rights movement," Shirley Reese said in GPB's short documentary on the episode from 2016. Reese went on to be an educator and a member of the Americus City Council.

"We were protesting as children," Reese said.

What the children were protesting on the day of their arrest was the blacks only section of the downtown Americus movie theater. It's a bank today. Emmarene Kaigler-Streeter, one of the other young women jailed in Leesburg and a retired educator, said the police came not long after they bought their tickets. The girls were put in the back of trucks.

"Then they herded us like cattle," Kaigler-Streeter said.

Rumors of the girls' detention reached the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta. SNCC dispatched documentary photographer Danny Lyon,  barely out of his teen years, to Leesburg to investigate.

The handful of images Lyon made in secret through the bars of the jail eventually made their way to President Kennedy. After months in the stockade, the young women were freed.

Clockwise from top left, Shirley Reese, Carol Barner-Seay, Diane Dorsey-Bowens and Emmarene Kaigler-Streeter were among the 20 or so girls who in 1963 were jailed, some as long as 45 days, in the one room Leesburg Stockade for their part in Civil Rights protests.

Decades of silence ensued until the surviving "Leesburg Girls" were nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the last months of the Obama administration. Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan and Robert de Niro were among the award's recipients in 2016. The women of the Leesburg Stockade were not. 

The historical marker at the Leesburg Stockade will be unveiled Sept. 27.


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