A standing-room-only crowd gathered in the Base Chapel aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., observance ceremony, Jan. 16. Individuals listened intently, with varying looks of dismay, pain, shock and disbelief on their faces, as Dr. Shirley Green-Reese, one of the original Leesburg Stockade Girls, shared her story.
MCLB Albany Commanding Officer Col. Alphonso Trimble said the program was an opportunity to commemorate King’s life and legacy.
“It was just a great opportunity to do that here in Albany, Georgia, where the city is rich in civil rights history and living civil rights (icons), which made it even more special for us,” Trimble said.
According to www.npr.org, around the time in July 1963 that King gave his landmark ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, a lesser-known moment in history was unfolding in a small south Georgia town that would forever change the lives of 15 teenage girls.
During a series of protests and marches by African-American youth in Americus, Ga., against the segregated movie theater, these girls – ages 12-15 – were jailed for more than 60 days in deplorable and inhumane conditions, without their parents’ knowledge, in an abandoned stockade in Leesburg, Ga.
The girls slept on concrete floors, had no running water, no working toilet or shower and survived on minimal food and water deliveries daily.
“I gave up hope many days and started to feel hopeless,” Reese explained. “I had never been away from home and was a lot of crying in that place. We didn’t feel like we were human.”
Reese said she was motivated by King’s speech to get involved with the civil rights movement.
Now, 56 years later, she is beginning to tell her story. Reese is one of the spokespersons for the group and today only eight of the stockade survivors are alive.
“She told a remarkable story of perseverance, tenacity and resiliency, a lot of the things that resonate with a lot of Marines … it was fantastic,” Trimble remarked.
Staff Sgt. Latifah Blanks, administrative chief, Base Adjutant, MCLB Albany, said, “Reese’s story shed light on Southwest Georgia history. We have Marines, Sailors and soldiers going to fight on the front lines for their country, and that’s what she was back then, a fighter.”
Blanks added, if it wasn’t for Reese and the other 14 girls, who knows who would have fought that battle or if it would even have been fought.
“I am grateful and appreciative for the opportunity to celebrate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy with the base leaders, Marines and community members,” Reese said. “It was an honor and pleasure to be able to tell my 56-year-old hidden, untold, Leesburg Stockade story.”
Reese said we must continue to keep King’s work alive.
“Like Dr. King would always say, ‘I’d rather see a good sermon than to hear a good sermon,’ so it’s in your deeds and actions that you do on a daily basis,” Trimble added. “As you go out in the community (work to) make (it) better.