This past Sunday was spent remembering the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.
The day started with a bell ringing and wreath laying ceremony. The bell rang at 10:22 a.m., the exact time the bomb went off. It rang four times, once for each of the four little girls who died in the blast.
14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and 11-year-old Denise McNair were innocent victims in the hate crime. After the bell rang for each victim, family members made their way over to a plaque that marks the spot where the bomb went off. They laid a wreath there.
Sarah Collins Rudolph was inside the church that day and survived the blast. Her sister, Addie Mae, did not make it out alive. Rudolph lost her right eye in the bombing. She says, after the blast, she remembers waking up with shards of glass in her eye and chest.
A memorial honoring the four little girls was unveiled Saturday and dedicated Sunday. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited the site with his wife. They spent time reflecting on the lives and deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. A special documentary viewing was held yesterday to remember those young victims. The film is called "Four Little Girls." Spike Lee directed the film and was in town to present it to the audience. About one-thousand people formed a line that wrapped around the block at the Alabama Theater for a special viewing.
We asked the director how he managed to convince the families to allow him to tell such a painful story. Lee says he started with Chris McNair. He says he sent McNair an out-of-the-blue letter asking permission to do a narrative film about his daughter, Denise.
Of course, he didn't know who Spike Lee was then and he didn't respond, but several years later when I was in Birmingham to accept an award, he told me to stay at his house with his family. I knew if I could get him to sign on then so would the other families," said Lee.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell presented the family members of the four little girls with a Congressional Gold Medal. She also gave a replica to Spike Lee. Lee then, in turn, said ‘thank you' but said he could not accept it and offered it to Fred Shuttlesworth's family in honor of the his work to improve civil rights in Birmingham and around the world.
A group of children got involved in yesterday's events. They lined up at 1st Avenue South and 14th Street South and marched to Railroad Park. The kids read "The Watsons go to Birmingham" to get them ready. It is a book that tells the tale of a family from Michigan who traveled to Alabama during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963.
Empowerment Week rounded out with entertainment at Railroad Park Sunday night. A huge crowd showed up to see Taylor Hicks and his friends perform. Henry "Gip" Gipson from Gip's Place in Bessemer was a special guest. Former American Idol semi-finalist Jeremy Rosado performed, as well as the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
Hicks was actually performing in Houston Sunday afternoon and flew into Birmingham just for this performance.
"What a great week for the city of Birmingham and also for the state. We've come light years and this is a great way for me to come back obviously and perform and kind of wrap things up and I'm really excited they asked me to be a part of it," said Hicks.
"We just feel really blessed to be out here in Birmingham. We got contacted about the possibility of coming out here to celebrate the people and the memory of what happened here in this city so long ago. So just feel really blessed to be a part and it's been really good," said Rosado.
To see more on Empowerment Week, visit the 50 Years Forward section of this website.
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