Media Credit

Young girls being held in a prison cell at the Leesburg Stockade, Danny Lyon, SNCC photographer, 1963, Barbara Deming Papers, Harvard University

A Story from Here

Agnew James owned his own farm in Lee County, and he became a registered voter in March of 1962 at the age of 43. By that summer, James was also the president of the Lee County Movement, helping organize voter registration efforts with SNCC out of nearby Shady Grove Church.

Even though he didn’t work for a white man, James still paid for his involvement in the Movement. In mid-August, Shady Grove burned to the ground, and two weeks later, shots were fired into James’ house. Economic retaliation also went hand in hand with the terrorism of nightriders and threats.  One day, an oil company worker drove up to James’ house and took his gas tank right out of the ground, saying that someone else had applied for it. The local supply stores refused to sell him goods, and when he housed SNCC workers in the summer of 1963, some officials threatened to remove his telephone line. When SNCC first moved into Lee,County, word was quickly spread by whites that “anybody keeping a freedom rider or associating with a freedom rider, had just as well dig his grave and stand by it.” White residents tried to keep this promise but failed. Stalwarts of the Movement, like James and Mama Dolly Raines, kept the Lee County Movement alive.

Local Landscape

Lee County, Georgia was rural, insular place, and two white families controlled most all of it. The Forrester clan held the sheriff’s office, the office of coroner, the tax office, and the county commission Meanwhile, Robert Lee was not only the largest landowner and mayor of Leesburg, the county seat, but also president of Lee County’s only bank. Most Black residents were under the complete economic control of white residents, even though they made up 62.7% of the county’s 6,204 people. Like the other counties in Southwest Georgia, peanuts had surpassed cotton in the fields, and sharecropping gave African Americans little to live off of. In 1968, however, Lee County became home to New Communities, a farming collective started by SNCC’s Charles Sherrod and his wife Shirley, in which Black farmers pooled their resources to help each other get ahead.

References

Stephen G. Tuck, Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle for Racial Equality in Georgia
Celebrating the Southwest Georgia Movement booklet, October 2000, Faith Holsaert papers, Duke University
Albany, Georgia Newsletters, Feb. 9, 1963, Faith Holsaert apers, Duke University