On September 15, 1963, racists exploded a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, injuring several people and killing four little girls aged 11-14: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. The incident is largely seen as a turning point that helped inspire the Civil Rights Movement.
In Spike Lee’s excellent documentary about the incident, 4 Little Girls (1997), many of the people who knew or were related to the girls give moving stories about the events surrounding the bombing.
It would be decades before some of those involved in the bombing would be brought to justice. The movie interviews former Alabama Attorney General William Baxley, who reopened an investigation into the bombing in the early 1970s, resulting in the conviction one of the men involved in the bombing in 1977.
Baxley had long been interested in pursuing justice in the case even before he was attorney general. In the movie, he explains how he used to listen to Joan Baez’s song “Birmingham Sunday” every day.
“Birmingham Sunday,” which was written by Richard Fariña, appeared on Baez’s album, Joan Baez/5 (1964). It was released in the year after the bombing.
The way the song helped inspire Baxley through the years to help bring some justice to the tragedy helps show the power of song. Spike Lee’s movie 4 Little Girls also shows the power of film.
Photo of church window at 16th Street Baptist Church, donated by the people of Wales after the bombing, via public domain.
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