Why Black Girls Were Kept in the Leesburg Stockade

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“They have the fortitude and strength of a thousand men” rang  the sentiment of a photography curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She was referring to the Leesburg Stockade: the name given to a group of young Black girls imprisoned in Leesburg, Georgia.

More than a dozen young Black girls, aged 12-15, were imprisoned in a cement stockade for 45 days.

Swept into a mass-arrest during a 1963 protest against segregation, the girls were piled into 16-wheeler truck, held briefly in Dawson, Georgia, and later moved to the former Lee County Public Works Building.

More than a dozen young girls were kept in one grim cell. The conditions were deplorable: “no bath, no toothbrush, toothpaste,” and the toilet was broken; the only water dripped from a broken shower spout, and food (when delivered) was sent by the local dog catcher.

The girls slept on cement floors and their parents had no idea where they were. The girls didn’t know either.

Earlier that afternoon many of the girls snuck away from their parents to participate in town protests.

Though their parents supported the cause, the aftermath of protests was unpredictable since police threatened (and often inflicted) participants with violence.

Many parents agreed that it was no place for a young child; but for children like 14-year-old Shirley Reese, she needed in on the action.

The girls were never charged with a crime -- and it wasn’t until a journalist snuck in and published pictures did public pressure from Washington, DC require their release.

But the girls’ freedom was not met with fanfare or unrest. Rather, they returned to school as soon as the next week began, and they wouldn’t talk about the event for the next 50 years.

There were no charges filed against the local police department, and no retribution received by the hands of the victims.

Instead, there’s 50-year-old pain and unsettled truths still ripe in the walls of the Leesburg Stockade-- a cement building that still stands today as evidence of our racial past and present.

This short (~7 mins) documentary tours the stockade and features interviews of some of the women who are still alive today.