By K. Levek
The Anacostia/Bellevue/Congress Heights AARP chapter #4870 held its monthly meeting in October, where they celebrated the 50th anniversary of 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. The celebration commemorated the four little girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, who died in the blast.
The chapter, led by Ward 8 activist, Philip Pannell, hosted a quilt exhibit, “Suffer the Little Children, which featured quilts made by District residents that are being featured at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. The exhibit shows quilts made by individuals who wanted to commemorate the bombing anniversary through a variety of quilts.
The exhibit opened on September 15th, 2013, marking the 50th anniversary to the exact day when it happened in 1963. Joanna Banks is the curator of the exhibit and said that members of the Anacostia Art Quilters made the quilts. The exhibit was suggested in July 2012 and was made by participants throughout the year leading up to the opening of 2013. She said, “All the feedback has been positive! This exhibit is teaching our children about our history.”
Shirley Hodge, a member of the quilting group, made “Four Flowers Lost But Not Forgotten” and was proud to see her quilt exhibited. “I wanted to take part in this exhibit because a lot of team when a tragedy hits, people remember the event and forget about th person’s life. I wanted to commemorate their lives.” Her quilt shows each of the four young women lifted in a flower with other flowers around theirs. She said she thought of flowers when she thought of the young women who lost their lives. “The patterns in her quilt signify the different paths each of the women’s lives would have taken if they had lived. The colors represent the joy they brought to their families where they lived.”
Banks said, “it’s cliché, but people who don’t know their history are damned to repeat it. Young people need to know that we are still fighting for our civil rights.”
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shutterworth. Tensions became high when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) became involved in a campaign to register African Americans to vote in Birmingham.
On Sunday, 15th September 1963, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Soon afterwards, at 10.22 a.m., the bomb exploded killing Denise McNair (11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14). The four girls had been attending Sunday school classes at the church. Twenty-three other people were also hurt by the blast.
Two young boys Virgil Ward and Johnny Robinson were also killed that day in separate incidents, but related to the blast.