Events leading up to this past week, with so much emphasis on the bombing and murder of my Sunday School friends on September 15, 1963, have brought about very uncomfortable feelings to me of an extremely painful time of my life. I have been constantly reminded of that day when the church shook and I was splattered with glass that was shattered from the blast just a few feet from where several of my Sunday school classmates and I were. It has been very difficult constantly being reminded every day of the event. I am glad it is finally over.
Today, when people experience tragic, horrific events in their lives, they are offered counseling to help them make it through, especially schoolchildren. We were offered nothing. (more…)
One day in 1963 that stands out for me is when Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Ralph Abernathy, James Farmer, and Rev. Abraham Woods came through our home so that they could get back down to St. Joseph Baptist Church without being seen in the area. This was one of the nights that Attorney Arthur Shores’ home was bombed. They were in the neighborhood trying to make sure that Attorney Shores and his family were okay. The police also heard that Dr. King was in the area, and if they had caught him that night, they would have put him in jail. (more…)
I am an African-American, a woman, a born and bred Southerner, and a Christian. I’m college educated and a heterosexual baby boomer. I am middle class, temporarily ablebodied, and a citizen of the world. Each identity shapes how I show up in the world. The first four formed the core foundation for my worldview and my purpose in the world.
I grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s. My memories of dogs and fire hoses, dynamite bombings, and senseless killings shaped my view of the world and my role in it. I too was shaped by the courage of my childhood friends marching in the streets and going to jail and by the fearless determination of the village of adults who tried to create a sense of normality in the face of unabridged hate. I was supported by a faith-filled family who believed that ultimately God was in charge. Against this backdrop, my strongly held fears and my growing rage lived side-by-side.
On September 15, 1963, fear and rage erupted into a powerful passion to fight injustice at any cost. (more…)
In 2011, I was driving up to Martha’s Vineyard to find out if perhaps I wanted to settle there. I stopped in Birmingham to see friends for a few days – Hank and Martha Black. Hank and I had been friends since the University of Alabama when he was a reporter. Coming home from work, he brought in a tiny advertisement from Weld for Birmingham, asking for sculptors to compete to create a memorial to the four girls who were in the bathroom when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1963. Excited, Hank asked me to read it and said that it was for me. Curious, I read it and agreed with him. Here in my hand was a piece that fit my philosophy of life and my small but constant battle for social justice wherever I happened to be. We noted that there were only four days left before the final due date. Usually it takes me and my web master a month or more to create a proposal for a particular competition. Instead, Martha helped me for four days and nights to run around getting details, photocopies, and leather-bound books for presentations. Usually I insert schematic drawings, elevations, site specific details, and of course, drawings of the potential piece, then load it all onto a flash drive or a CD.
Evelyn Allen, mother of our former Alabama First Lady Lori Allen Siegelman, my second Mom, let us spread out all our work on her living room floor in her home on top of Red Mountain, where we had a killer view of Jones Valley. So many people helped bring those bound proposals together. Southside UPS and the Birmingham Public Library’s Southside Branch helped often. They knew my name. I would come into the library and ask, “Where is the Spike Lee movie? I have to have the Spike Lee movie ‘4 Little Girls.’ I need it now, today. When is it coming back?” So, the librarians helped me with my research but I don’t think they really knew what I was doing. Kind. Martha and I drove the six bound proposals and a 3-foot by 2-foot presentation board with the glued-on design downtown to the appropriate address printed in the ad, with 20 minutes to spare. I think we double parked.
It was time to “come home,” because I had run from Birmingham, as soon as I could. (more…)
When I heard the bomb go off on that Sunday morning in September 1963, I thought, “I wonder what they’ve bombed now.”
I soon learned that it was Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The most heartbreaking news came later that day. My friend, Cynthia Wesley, and my teacher’s daughter, Denise McNair, had both been killed. (more…)