City and civil rights leaders in Birmingham unveiled the “Four Spirits” statue in Kelly Ingram Park Saturday memorializing the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, one day before the 50th anniversary of that tragedy.
On Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb placed by Ku Klux Klansman exploded before Sunday services killing four girls – 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and 11-year-old Denise McNair. The bombing shocked the public, helping lead to passage of the Civil Rights Act a year later. However, other than a plaque on the side of the church there has been no permanent memorial to the victims in Birmingham.
“This is not just a statue that’s significant to Birmingham,” said Drew Langloh, board member of Four Spirits, Inc. which commissioned the statue. “It’s significant to every person in this country that has struggled for the last 50 years.
Birmingham-born artist Elizabeth MacQueen created the bronze and steel statue. The four girls are depicted with with life-sized figures, while six doves fly above. The doves represent the four bombing victims plus two others who died the same day in Birmingham.
A white teenager shot 13-year-old Virgil Ware while riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bicycle. A police officer shot 16-year-old Johnny Robinson. Robinson was reportedly with a group of black teenagers throwing rocks at cars driven by white teens. One car displayed the Confederate flag. The two groups exchanged racial slurs.
The memorial also notes Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Mae Collins. Rudolph survived the bombing, but has dealt with severe injuries.
Rev. Joseph Lowery, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, drew from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eulogy to the bombing victims as he spoke to the crowd Saturday afternoon.
“Don’t let anybody tell you these children died in vain,” Lowery said. “We wouldn’t be out here right now had they not gone home before our eyes.”
The statue sits diagonally from the 16th Street Baptist Church at the northwest entrance to the park. The design, construction and installation cost $250,000. The name “Four Spirits” comes from a novel by Birmingham-born author Sena Jeter Naslund. Her book of the same name uses civil rights era Birmingham as a backdrop.
Click to see more pictures from the statue unveiling.
~ Andrew Yeager, September 15, 2013