‘Stolen Girls’: Footsoldiers inducted into Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

During the struggle for civil rights, not only were adults compelled to protest against injustice, so were children.

Carol Barner Seay and Sandra Russell Mansfield of Americus, Ga., were inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Voting Rights Museum on March 2. The event was one of many during the Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

The ladies were honored for their courage as foot soldiers in the civil rights movement.

In 1963 protests against Jim Crow laws, which were designed to keep African Americans from voting, were taking place all around the south.

“When I was a little girl, I used to watch TV all the time and when I saw black people being beaten, being dragged and dogs being put on them,” Mansfield said. “One day I remember saying out loud, ‘If they ever come to Americus, I’m going to be a part of it.'”

During the summer of 1963, Seay, 13, and her cousin, Mansfield, one of the youngest members to join sit-ins and demonstrations, were arrested during a protest in Dawson, Ga. and taken to jail.

The girls were sent back to Americus, along with other girls ages 12 to 16, according to Seay. They were taken to an abandoned Civil War-era stockade called Leesburg. Their parents, nor members of the community knew of their whereabouts.

“We were transported

at night,” Seay said. “We didn’t know where we were going. All we knew is that we were going across railroad tracks.”

Seay and Mansfield were two of 33 young girls who were taken, according to Afriye We-kandodos, one of the induction organizers. Missing for 45 days, they became know as “The Stolen Girls.”

According to Mansfield, they were among the “first group of girls to come and the last to leave.”

“It wasn’t fit for dogs,” Seay said. “As a matter of fact, it wasn’t fit for snakes.”

To their horror, Seay and Mansfield said at one time a rattlesnake was thrown into the stockade with them and later removed.

“We were screaming and crying,” Seay said. “Everyday we were told we would be taken out one by one and killed.”

Mansfield and Seay described the horrible living conditions. The concrete floors on which they had to sleep were very cold. There were bars on the windows that had to panes. The toilet didn’t work and the shower, which became a secondary toilet, and the source of their drinking water, only drizzled.

“All we had was each other and the Lord,” Seay said. “But we knew how to pray to God and to sing songs.”

According to Seay, the group of girls slept in shifts “because we always watched.”

According to Mansfield, it was the pictures of a photographer that led to their release. With some of the girls distracting a guard, the photographer was able to capture their prison on film. The photos “went nationwide”

and Congress ordered their release.

“It was hard,” Mansfield said.

After returning home, Mansfield said, “I had outgrown children my own age.”