Call to Action

On September 15th, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. While the explosion injured over twenty people, four precious girls, Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14 were murdered that Sunday morning as they prepared to lead the church youth service.

2013 is an especially important year as it marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the assassination of JFK, and (one of the many acts of American terrorism committed against the Black community) the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

This September we want to commemorate the deaths of the four girls by holding a one-hour program on college campuses and places of worship on Sunday the 15th, the 50th anniversary of the gruesome racially driven crime. We encourage all acts of expression, whether it is through dialogue or performance.

PRESS RELEASE, SEPTEMBER 1, 2013

FOUR GIRLS JUBILEE:

RING BELLS FOR ADDIE MAE, CAROLE, CYNTHIA, & DENISE!

CALL TO REMEMBRANCE,

SEPTEMBER 15TH WEEKEND

 

Four precious girls, Addie Mae Collins, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, & Denise McNair, 11, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorist bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church 50 years ago on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963. “Birmingham Sunday” marked a vital turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. The grief and anger sparked the all-out, nonviolent voting rights campaign that produced the 1965 Voting Rights Act—recently debilitated by the Supreme Court.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a (golden) jubilee is the time 50 years after a monumental injustice when new generations seek redemption, repair, and reconciliation—in the name of all those who have sacrificed their lives.

The ringing of the big bell (saved from the bombed Birmingham church) at the Lincoln Memorial on Weds., Aug. 28 by Dr. King’s only grandchild Yolanda, and mention of the four girls’ deaths by President Obama & President Clinton was an important recognition. Yet so much more needs to be done to honor the four girls and all of the “foot soldiers,” the grassroots organizers then and today, who have sacrificed so much, sometimes their lives, and who have received so little recognition for their commitment to social and economic justice.

Half a century after the horror of Birmingham Sunday, we have an opportunity next week to commemorate these four lost lives and to (re)commit ourselves to the aims of racial and economic justice for which they died. We know that racial and economic justice are more entwined than ever, the “malignant kinship” of race and class.

 

We call on all Americans, of all ages, colors, and creeds, to find a fitting way to honor the four girls, on or around Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, that looks toward how our pressing goals of racial, economic, and environmental justice can be attained. And how, specifically, we can get going, keep going, on this journey NOW.

 

We encourage each college campus, high school, middle or elementary school, house of worship, neighborhood, workplace, or community organization, to organize their own forward-looking commemoration. Such a program might consist of any of the following, or others that might be more locally meaningful:

HOUSES OF WORSHIP: We ask in particular if churches that meet on Sunday morning could ring their bells or chimes FOUR TIMES on Sept. 15th at 10:22 AM, the moment of the bombing that literally stopped the clock forever in the Birmingham church sanctuary. And for the minister or a lay person to call out the names of the four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, & Denise McNair. We ask if synagogues and mosques that gather on Friday or Saturday of that weekend can find a moment to ring bells in the girls’ memory or do another form of remembrance, perhaps a talk, sermon, or song. Friday night Sept. 13 through Saturday is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

 

Here are a few other suggestions for how colleges, schools, community groups, and places of worship might choose to commemorate “Birmingham Sunday” and the sacrifices of all of the foot soldiers in the Civil Rights Movement:

  • Facilitated dialogues on racial, economic, and/or environmental justice, culminating in action plans
  • Specific dialogues and action plans on current issues such as: voting rights suppression; mass incarceration of African Americans and Latinos (the “new Jim Crow”); global slavery; sweatshop labor; immigrants’ rights; violence against youth of color & against women and girls; joblessness; age discrimination; retirement; family debt burdens, esp. student debt
  • Film showings (e.g., Spike Lee’s Four Little Girls) followed by dialogue
  • Dramatic readings and performances (e.g., dance improv, poetry slams), with dialogue
  • Campus or church gospel choir performances on the Sept. 15 weekend.

Our website fourgirlsjubilee.com offers a free online Discussion Guide that participants can use, or adapt freely, for facilitated discussions.

Please let us know by email (see below) what you are planning to do and send us a brief recap afterwards that we can post on our website for others to see and appreciate.

Let’s make the weekend of Sept. 15 a moment of hope, vision, and commitment—a time to make history in the here and now!  For more info. & resources visit fourgirlsjubilee.com or StewartBurnsHistory.com, or email sburns@williams.edu

Submitted by Stewart Burns and Lani Wilson ‘15, co-coordinators, Four Girls Jubilee, Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267

Discussion Guide

FOUR GIRLS JUBILEE Discussion Guide

Your discussion for the Four Girls Jubilee, or any other discussion, may also be an opportunity for the discussion leaders to practice good facilitation skills. Here are a few principles that might come in handy:

PROCESS PRINCIPLES:

  • If feasible, it’s always good to have two co-facilitators who plan the discussion ahead of time.
  • Start by passing around a sign-up sheet with people’s names, email addresses, & phone numbers (perhaps also institutional affiliation); make sure that late arrivals sign the sheet.
  • If the group comes to 15-20 participants, you might want to divide into two groups. A group of 10-15 participants is ideal.  Good idea to have at least a couple of co-facilitators in reserve.
  • Facilitator needs to start by welcoming everyone warmly and presenting the topic(s) for discussion clearly & concisely.
  • Start by going around the circle to give brief introductions (& encourage everyone to sit in a circle even if the circle keeps getting larger).
  • Facilitator starts discussion by tossing out a general question or a more specific question, (examples below), ready to follow up with a follow-up question or another topic for discussion.
  • Emphasize that the group has only about an hour for the discussion (unless the group agrees to continue for another 15-30 minutes), so participants should be encouraged to speak concisely. A participant should not speak a second or third time until most participants have had an opportunity to speak once. Sometimes it helps to have a “talking stick” that each person holds while they are talking.
  • Sometimes it is helpful to write comments on a white board or flip-chart paper.
  • Don’t be afraid of silences in the conversation. Let them be. These can lead to deeper thinking & reflection.
  • Try to avoid “cross talk”—interrupting, disagreeing with, or challenging someone’s words, unless this has been agreed upon by the group. Participants need to feel safe to open their minds & hearts without fear of criticism or judgment. But it’s always OK to ask clarifying questions.
  • Facilitator needs to keep track of the time and be sure to let everyone know when they have ten minutes left and the group needs to wind down the discussion.
  • It is sometimes helpful if the facilitator can conclude the discussion by very briefly summing up some of the key points that participants have made.
  • It is usually a good idea to talk about a NEXT STEP—which might be setting up a further discussion about the same or a different topic. This might include setting a date, time, & place if feasible. Or the facilitator can generate a list serve of participants to keep in touch.

POTENTIAL DISCUSSION TOPICS (one or more topics for each discussion session):

 

GENERAL QUESTIONS:

 

1] How has a racial, gender, sexual, class, or other difference—in yourself or in someone else—strengthened you and enhanced your life and your relationships? How has such a difference hurt you or diminished your life and your relationships? How have you been able to transform a difference from a disadvantage into an advantage in your life?

 

2] Citizenship:  Besides voting, paying taxes, & jury duty, what does it mean to you to be a citizen of your country? What might it mean to be, or aspire to be, a citizen of the world?

3] How do you think it might be possible to overcome or transform racial or other barriers that keep people apart and keep them from treating each other as distinct, unique, whole persons—free of biases, stereotypes, & other distortions?

4] How do you think it might be possible to take concrete steps toward ending poverty and achieving economic justice in your community or your nation?

 

SPECIFIC QUESTIONS:

 

1] How did the Civil Rights Movement respond to terrorist acts in nonviolent ways? How effective were these nonviolent responses compared to the violent responses of the U.S. government (such as invading Afghanistan, or deploying drones)?

2] Discuss the relationship between “Birmingham Sunday” (Sept. 15, 1963) and the successful campaign to achieve the 1965 Voting Rights Act two years later?

3] Discuss Rev. James Bevel’s comments (see Testimonies page) about transforming anger into nonviolent power. Does this approach make sense to you, from your own life experience? Why or why not?

4] Why do you think Dr. King was initially hesitant to launch a full-scale voting rights campaign after “Birmingham Sunday”?

5] What was the role of grassroots activists in initiating & building the voting rights campaign between 1963 & 1965?

6] What can we do as committed citizens to restore the full strength of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that was recently debilitated by the Supreme Court?