A Blues for the Birmingham Four
By Amin Sharif
They say the Devil walks the land
way down in Birmingham.
And when a black child
goes to sleep,
they dream of hell’s hounds
at their small brown feet –
no fairy land will they ever
greet – way down in Birmingham.
And in each poor cabin found
down the way,
black men sweat and black women
that a blind white vengeance does
take their soul away –
way down in Birmingham.
For in the night beneath the stars –
the rope, the gun, the burning
the pungent smell of roasting
will this Devil never rest – way
Now in the church four come to
but these young souls are marked
‘til they wake on Judgment
way down in Birmingham.
Broken bodies! A tattered dress!
The fires of hell! A demon fest!
Yes, Lucifer is at his best –
As the blue black smoke begins to
black heads have bowed and they
have prayed for heaven’s
to be displayed – way down in Birmingham.
But still black children dream
of Dragon’s Grand,
hell hounds' teeth, the bogey
and with pounding hearts they lay
way down in Birmingham!
* * *
||Born Nov. 17, 1951, Carol
Denise McNair was the first child of photo
shop owner Chris and schoolteacher Maxine McNair. Her
playmates called her Niecie. She was an inquisitive girl
who never understood why she couldn't get a sandwich at
the same counter as white children. A pupil at Center
Street Elementary School, she had a knack of gathering
neighborhood children to play on the block. She held tea
parties, belonged to the Brownies and played baseball.
Denise, who dreamed of being a pediatrician, asked the
neighborhood children to put on skits and dance routines
and to read poetry in a big production to raise money
for muscular dystrophy. It became an annual event.
People gathered in the yard to watch the show
in Denise's carport — the main stage. Children donated their
pennies, dimes and nickels. Adults gave larger sums. The
muscular dystrophy fund-raiser was always Denise's project — one
that nobody refused.
|Born April 30, 1949, Cynthia Wesley was
the first adopted daughter of Claude and Gertrude Wesley
(both teachers). Cynthia was a petite girl with a narrow
face and size 2 dress. Cynthia's mother made her clothes,
which fit her thin frame perfectly., whose parents were
also teachers, left the house that day having been
admonished by her mother to adjust her slip to be
presentable in church. Cynthia attended the now-defunct
Ullman High School, where she did well in math, reading
and the band. She invited friends to parties in her back
yard, playing soulful tunes and serving
When Cynthia died in the church blast, she
was still wearing the ring Mrs. Savage gave her when they
were younger. Cynthia's father identified her by that ring
when he went to the morgue.
||Born April 24, 1949, Carole Robertson was
the third child of Alpha and Alvin Robertson. Older
siblings were Dianne and Alvin. her father was a band
master at an elementary school and whose mother was a
librarian, was an avid reader, dancer and clarinet player.
Carole was an avid reader and straight-A student who
belonged to Jack and Jill of America, the Girl Scouts, the
Parker High School marching band and science club. She
also had attended Wilkerson Elementary School, where she
sang in the choir. Carole grew up in a Smithfield home
that was full of love, friends and the aroma of good
cooking, especially her mother's spaghetti.
In 1976, Chicago residents established the
Carole Robertson Center for Learning, a social service
agency that serves children and their families. Named
after Carole, it is dedicated to the memory of all four
|Addie Mae Collins, born April 18, 1949, was one of seven
children born to Oscar Collins, a janitor, and Alice, a
homemaker. Addie's family was the poorest of the four.
"It was clear that she lacked things," recalls
Rev. John Cross, the pastor of the church at the time of
the bombing. "But she was a quiet, sweet girl."
And, Sarah adds, a budding artist: "She could draw
people real good." When disagreements erupted among
the siblings inside the home on Sixth Court West, Addie
was the peacemaker. The Hill Elementary School
eighth-grader loved to pitch while playing ball, too.
"I remember that underhand," said older sister
Janie, now Janie Gaines.
Every second and third Saturday, children
file into the Addie Mae Collins Youth Center in an
Ishkooda Road church to build positive attitudes, develop
talents and learn to deal with adversity. "Not only
will it be a memorial to her but also we'll be helping
other kids who are dealing with tragedies," said Mrs.
Jones, whose mother is Janie Gaines.
* * *
of Southern Terror
On September 15, 1963, a savage explosion of 19 sticks of dynamite
stashed under a stairwell ripped through the northeast corner of
the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The
four girls killed in the blast: Addie Mae Collins, 14;. Denise
McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14, also
died, and another 22 adults and children were injured. Meant to
slow the growing civil rights movement in the South, the racist
killings, like the notorious murder of activist Medgar Evers in
Mississippi three months earlier, instead fueled protests that
helped speed passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
From 1947 to 1963, the Birmingham area suffered
41 racially motivated bombings. "The 16th Street
bombing left an indelible image all over the world of what
Birmingham was like," said Wayne Flynt, a historian at Auburn
University. "It established once and for all an international
reputation for Birmingham as a city that was never too busy to
hate." Yet the tragedy of the church bombing pushed blacks
and whites to work harder at integration --- especially white
moderates who had been silently tolerant of measures to quash
attempts by blacks to achieve equality.
The funeral of the four girls marked the first time many whites
in Birmingham had attended a predominantly black gathering. A
strange unity began to develop.
Summary of Justice Done
Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss, a truck driver and
longtime Ku Klux Klan member, was convicted of the murders in
1977. Though the FBI always believed had had accomplices, even
identifying three suspects, the case against them was marred by
conflicting accounts, and Chambliss, who died in prison at age 81
in 1985, refused to the end to cooperate. But new leads that
emerged a year ago have made the FBI cautiously hopeful.
A former Ku Klux Klansman was convicted of murder Tuesday (July
3, 2001) for the 1963 church bombing that killed
four black girls, the deadliest single attack during the civil
rights movement. Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, was sentenced to life in
prison by the same jury that found him guilty after 2½ hours of
deliberations. The Rev. Abraham Woods, a black minister
instrumental in getting the FBI to reopen the case in 1993, said
he was delighted with the verdict.
* * * *
Sept. 15, 1963: Dynamite bomb explodes outside
Sunday services at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing
11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole
Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, and injuring 20 others.
May 13, 1965: FBI memorandum to director J.
Edgar Hoover concludes the bombing was the work of former Ku Klux
Klansmen Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank
Cash and Thomas E. Blanton, Jr.
1968: FBI closes its investigation without
1971: Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley
Nov. 18, 1977: Chambliss convicted on a state
murder charge and sentenced to life in prison.
1980: Justice Department report concludes
Hoover had blocked prosecution of the Klansmen in 1965.
Oct. 29, 1985: Chambliss dies in prison, still
professing his innocence.
1988: Alabama Attorney General Don Siegelman
reopens the case, which is closed without action.
1993: Birmingham-area black leaders meet with
FBI, agents secretly begin new review of case.
Feb. 7, 1994: Cash dies.
July 1997: Cherry interrogated in Texas; FBI
investigation becomes public knowledge.
Oct. 27, 1998: Federal grand jury in Alabama
begins hearing evidence.
April 26, 2000: Cherry arrested on charges he
molested a former stepdaughter 29 years earlier. He is later
extradited to Alabama.
May 17, 2000: Blanton and Cherry surrender on
murder indictments returned by grand jury in Birmingham.
April 10, 2001: Judge delays Cherry trial,
citing defendant's medical problems, but refuses to dismiss
charges against either man.
April 16, 2000: Jury selection to begin in
case against Blanton.
* * *
Coltrane, "Alabama" /
Kalamu ya Salaam, "Alabama"
A Love Supreme
A Blues for the Birmingham Four
/ Eulogy for the Young Victims
/ Six Dead After Church
My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)
Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Denise
McNair. Murdered in an act of terrorism on this day
in 1963. We will never forget Cynthia Wesley, Carole
Robertson and Addie Mae Collins—all 14 years old,
and 11-year-old Denise McNair. They were murdered in
the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in an act of
terrorism by a Klan related group on Sept. 15, 1963
in Birmingham, Alabama. The Birmingham Public
Library has an online digital collection of photos
and news clippings—bplonline
4 Little Girls is a 1997 American
historical documentary film about the
1963 murder of four African-American
girls in the
16th Street Baptist Church bombing
in Birmingham, Alabama, United States.
It was directed by
Spike Lee and nominated for an
Academy Award for "Best Documentary."
. . . The film covered
the events in
Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 related
civil rights demonstrations and the
movement to end racial discrimination in
local stores and facilities. In 1963
Martin Luther King arrived in the
town to help with their strategy. People
of the community met at the
16th Street Baptist Church while
organizing their events.
The demonstrations were
covered by national media, and the use
by police of police dogs and pressured
water from hoses on young people shocked
the nation. So many demonstrators were
arrested that the jail was filled. A
local chapter of the
Ku Klux Klan placed bombs at the
Baptist Church and set them off on a
Sunday morning. Four young girls were
killed in the explosion. The deaths
provoked national outrage, and that
summer the US Congress passed the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was
signed by President
Lyndon B. Johnson.—wikipedia
* * *
Behind the Dream
The Making of the Speech that Transformed a
Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly
Have a Dream.”
When those words were spoken on the steps of
the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, the
crowd stood, electrified, as Martin Luther
King, Jr. brought the plight of African
Americans to the public consciousness and
firmly established himself as one of the
greatest orators of all time.
Behind the Dream is a thrilling,
behind-the-scenes account of the weeks
leading up to the great event, as told by
Clarence Jones, co-writer of the speech and
close confidant to King. Jones was there, on
the road, collaborating with the great minds
of the time, and hammering out the ideas and
the speech that would shape the civil rights
movement and inspire Americans for years to
come.— Palgrave Macmillan
Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that
Transformed a Nation is a smart, insightful,
enjoyable read about a momentous event in history. It is
the "story behind the story" straight from Clarence
Jones, the attorney, speechwriter, and close friend of
Martin Luther King, Jr. As I read the words on the page,
I felt as if I were having an intimate conversation with
the author. The book helped me to understand the
humanity of Dr. King and the other organizers of the
March on Washington. They were people who saw injustice
and called for change. Despite FBI wiretaps and other
adversity, together they undertook an enormous
logistical effort in hopes that the March would be a
success. Jones himself handwrote the first draft of the
renowned “I Have a Dream”
speech on a yellow legal pad, but it wasn't until King
was inspired to veer from the text that he struck a
chord with the audience, delivering the right words at
the right time. The “I Have a Dream” speech helped to
elevate King from a man to a hero; this book is a
reminder to all to make sure that his Dream lives on.—amazon
* * *
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
By Charles C. Mann
a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous
New Revelations of the Americas Before
Columbus, in which he
provides a sweeping and provocative
examination of North and South America
prior to the arrival of Christopher
Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched
but so wonderfully written that it’s
anything but exhausting to read. With
1493, Mann has taken it to a
new, truly global level. Building on the
groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby
The Columbian Exchange and, I’m
proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer),
Mann has written nothing less than the
story of our world: how a planet of what
were once several autonomous continents
is quickly becoming a single,
Mann not only talked to countless
scientists and researchers; he visited
the places he writes about, and as a
consequence, the book has a marvelously
wide-ranging yet personal feel as we
follow Mann from one far-flung corner of
the world to the next. And always, the
prose is masterful. In telling the
improbable story of how Spanish and
Chinese cultures collided in the
Philippines in the sixteenth century, he
takes us to the island of Mindoro whose
“southern coast consists of a number of
small bays, one next to another like
tooth marks in an apple.”
We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato,
tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have
disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue
to do so until we are finally living on one
integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth.
Whether or not the human instigators of all this
remarkable change will survive the process they
helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago
remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and
revelatory book, an open question.
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
16 September 2012