The 16th St. Baptist Church and the Case for National RecognitionNovember 9, 2016
As many of you know, this past September 15th marked Let’s work together to ensure this proposal passes and soon. 53rd anniversary of the heinous bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama, which took the lives of four young African-American girls back in 1963. Senseless deaths, the result of ignorance and hatred, all due to an inability to accept others for who they are. Although the Civil Rights Movement was national in scope, Birmingham has long been considered “Ground Zero.” From the early work of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, so many bombings that the city became known as “Bombingham,” the beating of the Freedom Riders, Bull Connor’s firehoses and dogs and the church bombing, what happened in Birmingham in the 50s and 60s changed the country.
Recently, a bill was introduced in Congress by Rep. Terri Sewell and back by the entire Alabama delegation to designate the Civil Rights District of Birmingham as a National Park. A town hall meeting to receive community comments on the proposal was held at the 16th Street Baptist Church on October 27th and I and several other community leaders were invited by Mayor William Bell to speak in order to do our part in making the case for designation as either a national park or national monument. And I was grateful and honored for the opportunity to do so.
In addition to the Mayor, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, the Director of the National Park Service Jonathan Jarvis and Congresswoman Sewell also attended. I made my remarks from the stand point of the prosecutor of the church bombing cases and as the newly installed chair of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
I briefly did my best to raise awareness and support for the vital importance of preserving history so that we never forget moments like this, no matter how difficult to recall, because such actions impact our lives and negatively effect the kind of nation we strive to live in for ourselves and future generations. I shared my experiences traveling from state to state and how people residing outside of Birmingham want to learn all they can about what happened that fateful day. I talked about the process of connecting the dots of history to amass enough evidence to prosecute and convict Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry, the men responsible for the bombings, years after the crime occurred.
Birmingham’s story is one of the pivotal moments from the Civil Rights era that can change hearts and minds. The destination of the 16th Street Baptist Church has long been a beacon of hope for those seeking justice and equality and in my opinion should remain so. By designating it as a National Park or Monument, we would increase the brightness of that beacon 100 fold to reach more and more people throughout this country – and God knows we need it.
Even though there is a bill pending in Congress pushing for this request to be approved, we all know how long such a thing can take. So now there is a concerted effort to bring the request directly to President Obama so that he may make this proposal a reality by using his authority under the Antiquities Act. And you can help, by simply signing on to the petition at https://www.change.org/p/help-create-a-civil-rights-national-park-in-birmingham-2.
Let’s work together to ensure this proposal passes and soon.