Lenora Martin Hall, now a retired teacher and certified educator living in Albany, is among those who took part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and largely stayed silent about her experience.
Decades later, she says she has decided to come forward as a way of helping bring to light the role children played in establishing equality among the races.
Hall is an Albany native who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science as well as master’s degrees in education and public administration from Albany State University. Well before that, she said she was jailed in Camilla at the age of 11 for eight days for participating in civil rights movement activities.
“I’ve always been concerned about the children that played a role in the civil rights movement,” Hall said. “Some people may not realize the role that children played.”
Hall said she was at a meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church during a weekday afternoon in the summer of 1963. During the eight days that followed, Hall’s parents — despite their best efforts — were unable to determine her whereabouts.
It was not until decades later that Hall realized the toll the incident took on her parents.
“It was a year or two before he (my father) died that I found out what they endured,” she said. “I don’t think he wanted to talk about it while my mother was alive.
Hall said she is writing a book about her experiences, which began with that meeting she attended in the company of an adult caretaker. She said the police pulled up and took in everyone participating, and as jails nearby filled up, people were taken to facilities in other cities.
Hall said she ended up in jail in Camilla.
“They hauled in everyone in the church who happened to be there,” she said.
The word that came to Hall as she told of her experience was “devastating.” She said she was the youngest in her cell with several other girls, and she remembered being very frightened over those several days she was incarcerated.
“I did a lot of crying, a lot of praying,” she said. “I was longing to hear from some family member hoping to find me. When my parents came to get me, they told me they suspected I was there, but (officials) would not tell my parents where I was.”
Hall said she is not sure to this day what ultimately led to her release. She said she was just glad to be out of a facility where she was exposed to a water hose and barking dogs used to scare the girls into stopping crying.
The girls responded by singing freedom songs while being fed meals Hall described as “unfit for consumption.”
“We were singing freedom songs,” she said. “There were a lot of prayers, a lot of tears. The older girls, being older, probably took it better than I did.”
Before that event at Shiloh Baptist, Hall said she was already smart enough to know something was not right about the society she was living in. She said she witnessed her parents walk to the back of buses and go into the back door of a doctor’s office while using water fountains, bathrooms and counters separate from whites.
“I was mature enough to know exactly why I was there, and the cause for being there,” Hall said. “I was mature enough to know I was there for a cause.”
One of the ways the movement was felt in Albany, Hall said, was with the integration of schools, which allowed her to graduate from Albany High School in 1970.
“At that time, I realized the role I played was worthwhile,” she said.
After all these events, Hall said she has developed a sense of the price paid for justice.
“It has helped me to have a better understanding of social change and how social change comes about, and the price people have to pay (to bring about) social change,” she said. “It helped me to understand at an early age that there is a high price for social change.
“I matured at a young age. I was wearing adult shoes at a young age. Freedom is not free; social change is not free.”
While the Albany Civil Rights Movement was the cause closest to her, its impact was not a reality confined only to Southwest Georgia.
“Civil rights is not just a Southern issue, it is a national issue,” she said. “When I was at Albany High those four years, it helped me to be able to understand other races of people better, and I did.”
Strides have been made in the effort to achieve equality, she said, but the world is not there just yet.
“In the area of civil rights, we have made some improvements,” Hall said. “There is cultural diversity as a whole, but we still have a long way to go. The work is not over, definitely not over.”
Hall said she is just now at the point where she is ready to speak of the traumatic experience she suffered as a young girl. The ordeal highlights something often left out of civil rights literature.
“I don’t want them to forget that there were numerous children that played roles,” she said. “There were numerous children that played a role in the civil rights movement in a variety of ways.
“I don’t want them to forget that children played a major role in the civil rights movement.”
Even after coming forward, Hall said discussing her experience is still difficult.
“I was a social studies teacher, and I never mentioned the role I played,” she said. “It is very difficult to talk about it.”
Now, she said she is grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so.
“I am very, very thankful to be alive, and to God for having brought me through it all,” she said.