DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And it's time now for StoryCorps. As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches, many will be reflecting on his I Have A Dream speech. Summer of 1963 when King gave that speech, a lesser-known moment in civil rights history was unfolding in southern Georgia. More than a dozen African-American girls, some as young as 12, were arrested for protesting segregation and held in the Leesburg Stockade, a small, cement building used as a makeshift jail. They had no working toilet, very little food. And they'd been taken without their parents' knowledge. The girls were held there for nearly two months until photographs of their living conditions were published. More than 50 years later, StoryCorps recorded with several of the women who had been imprisoned, including Carol Barner-Seay, Shirley Green-Reese and Diane Bowens.
CAROL BARNER-SEAY: The place was worse than filthy.
SHIRLEY GREEN-REESE: Being in a place like that, I didn't feel like we was human.
DIANE BOWENS: We slept on the hard concrete floors, no water. Our parents didn't even know where we were.
GREEN-REESE: And I had never been away from home. After a week, it started messing with me mentally, as if no one cared. And I gave up hope many days.
BOWENS: So did I.
GREEN-REESE: It was a lot of crying in that place.
BOWENS: I was scared Verna was going to die. If she ate, it would just come right back up.
BARNER-SEAY: If she complained to anybody, it was under her breath to God. But we never heard it.
GREEN-REESE: She wasn't aware that she was pregnant. We didn't know because we were children.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
VERNA HOLLIS: My name is Verna Hollis.
JOSEPH JONES III: My name is Joseph Jones III, and I'm the son. I couldn't believe that living in this town, I had never heard this story. I didn't know you were locked up. How did you feel when you first arrived there?
HOLLIS: I was scared and mad that you could treat a human being like they treated us. We both could've died in there.
JONES: You have been my inspiration as far as how to be strong. I'm proud of that. And I try to live from that.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREEN-REESE: When we got out of that stockade, my classmates and my teachers never asked me where I was coming from. I felt like I didn't fit in. So after high school, I left the area and moved forward. So what I did - I got a job in the library. And for the first time in my life, I saw this picture. I said, this is us. But I wasn't going to share that with nobody because I didn't want them to know I was in that jail. We never talked about the stockade - never...
BOWENS: You're right.
GREEN-REESE: ...In 52 years.
BOWENS: Today, when I got in this elevator, I was about to have a heart attack. I just don't want to be closed in. And I don't want to be in the dark. I'm 66 years old, and I sleep with two lights on in my bedroom.
GREEN-REESE: For me, it has been in my fibers for years. And I still don't like to talk about it. But this is a part of all of our lives...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: Shirley Green-Reese, Diane Bowens and Carol Barner-Seay in Americus, Ga. They were jailed in a makeshift prison for protesting segregation in 1963. We also heard from Verna Hollis and her son Joseph. Verna died in 2017. None were ever charged with a crime. You can hear more on the StoryCorps podcast by going to npr.org.
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