Americus Civil Rights icon honored with lifetime achievement award

Local News

AMERICUS, Ga (WRBL)- A Sumter County woman known for her role in promoting Civil Rights and equality is set to receive a prestigious honor. 

The Florida State University announced Dr. Shirley Reese will win the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award as a part of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Ceremony.  

The awards ceremony will be held virtually on Friday, December 4, 2020, at 6 p.m. Eastern through FSU’s Facebook page and YouTube channel

“This is one of the most outstanding awards that I have ever received, from one of the best universities in the nation,” said Dr. Reese.  “It is a very special honor that I will value for a lifetime.”

Reese made history as a part of the 15 Leesburg Stockade Girls, a group of local young women between the ages of 12 and 15 who were arrested in the summer of 1963.  They were snatched off the streets of Americus for attempting to purchase movie tickets at the “whites only” patrons’ ticket booth during a Civil Rights protest.

A photo of Dr. Reese from 1963 during her imprisonment in the Leesburg Stockade.

After being arrested, they were taken to Dawson, Georgia, and transported to the Leesburg Stockade Building in Lee County, Georgia, where they were imprisoned for more than two months.

“My most horrible memories were being taken from my parents without their knowledge and living in an unknown and inhumane environment many miles away from my home,” said Dr. Reese.  “[We were] without beds to sleep on, a non-working toilet, no shower, no drinking water, no personal sanitation and cleaning items, sleeping among various insects. We lacked nutrition.  We were served four hamburgers per girls, per day.”

Inside the Leesburg Stockade during a 2019 interview, Dr. Reese describes to News 3’s Greg Loyd
what she lived through during that awful summer in 1963.

In the years after the horrific experience, Dr. Reese attained the highest levels of education, including a doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration from The Florida State University.  

Over the years, she taught at colleges throughout the area and inspired a new generation of Civil Rights leaders. 

But now, Dr. Reese faces another challenge.  She suffers from kidney disease, and her doctors say it started with the harsh treatment she faced during her 60 days of confinement in the Leesburg Stockade—something that’s followed her through life ever since.

“I thank God at this point in my life that I found a number one medical center with number one doctors at Vanderbilt Medical Center over eight years ago.  They’ve assisted me with my present situation,” said Dr. Reese. “I feel very comfortable with the process of being evaluated to receive a kidney transplant under a team of experts.”

Dr. Reese continued, “They are performing excellent procedures at the Center. I am honored to be selected by one of my doctors to serve on Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Patient, Family and Community Kidney Advisory Group.  During my initial consultation, I was encouraged to fundraise for costly out-of-pocket expenses that will accrue over the many years for hospital visits to and from, including traveling, hotel stays, long-term medications, among other unexpected emergencies.”

Donations for Dr. Reese’s transplant surgery are accepted on her GoFundMe page.

 Despite the medical challenge, Dr. Reese expects a promising, rewarding life after her surgery.

“I will continue with my mission of telling my hidden and untold story that America has pushed under the rug and forgotten and I plan on promoting other personal missions that are pending and will be shared throughout the world,” said Dr. Reese.  “My story will be a part of America’s history that has never been respected or recognized.”

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