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Picketing at the Piggly Wiggly

To protest unfair hiring practices at the Piggly Wiggly, a group of black and white citizens calls for a boycott of the store.

Press Conference: SCLC and SNCC

Hosea Williams and John Lewis talk to reporters about racial tensions in southwest Georgia. They vow to continue demonstrations until demands for change are met.

Integrating First Methodist Church

An interracial group attempts to attend Sunday worship service. Twelve white church members prevent them from entering.

Evening March and Prayer Vigil

After the Mayor has demanded an end to all demonstrations, a group of Americus citizens marches in protest.

Press Conference: Gov. Sanders

Gov. Sanders urges calm. He encourages citizens to avoid "outside agitators" and solve problems locally.

Lester Maddox Supports Segregation

Maddox defends states' rights policies. He accuses civil rights workers of being "communist agitators and government agents."

James Searles and the Southwest Georgian

The story of Americus's longest running black community newspaper.




When SNCC workers entered Americus in 1962, under the aegis of the Southwest Georgia Project, they discovered a pre-existing and vibrant community of local activists: the Sumter County Movement of Americus.  Americus clerics Reverend R.L. Freeman and Reverend J.R. Campbell, as well as the businesswoman Mabel “Mom” Barnum, provided inspiring and heroic leadership in the first marches of 1963. 

The most intriguing characteristic of the Sumter County Movement, however, was the disproportionate number of teenagers and even pre-teens who dominated the marches. 
For example, in late July, more than thirty-three teenage girls were arrested during a march in Americus and sent to a stockade in nearby Lee County.  Photographs taken by SNCC member Danny Lyon, who snuck into the Leesburg Stockade, showed terrified young girls in a barren room with barred windows and a stopped up, overflowing toilet.  Such horrific conditions reinforced the fact that the Sumter County Movement’s youthful marchers often faced significant threats to their liberties and lives. 

One such reprisal received national attention. In 1963 Americus-Sumter County law enforcement officials arrested four college-aged students: Ralph Allen, Don Harris, and John Perdew of SNCC; and Zev Aelony of CORE.  The “Americus Four” were charged under Georgia’s 1871 Anti-Treason Act, punishable by execution.  Although a federal district court dismissed the case in November, a Washington Post writer noted that the community would work to “keep segregation by any and all means.”

On July 29, 1964, Andrew Whatley, a    twenty-one year old white male, was shot and killed while observing a march, causing divisive riots in the city.  In response, a group of twenty-five white men and women stepped forward and called for the formation of a biracial commission to end the racial conflicts.  They were met by physical, economic, and Ku Klux Klan-led threats and counter demonstrations.  Fearing both racial violence and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, segregationists could no longer hold back the quest for racial justice. 

Within three days of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, more than one thousand African Americans registered to vote in Sumter County.  When schools opened in late August, the number of black students enrolled in previously segregated schools rose from four in 1964 to almost ninety in 1965.  The next month the first black police officers, J.W. “Sport” Williams and Henry L. “Spann” Williams, were hired in Americus.

One symbol of the overall success of the Civil Rights Movement in Americus occurred in June 1995.  Juanita Freeman Wilson became the first black and female principal in the 115-year history of Americus High. She had been denied admission to Americus High throughout her teenage years, and she was a survivor of the Leesburg Stockade.

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Writer: Professor Glenn Robins, Dept. of History and Political Science, Georgia Southwestern University                         

Editors and Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara McCaskill                      

Web Site Designer: William Weems

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