The first ladies of the state of Alabama and the city of Birmingham lent their presence Thursday to a fundraiser on behalf of a bronze memorial to the four girls killed in the September 15, 1963 bombing at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Dianne Bentley, the wife of Governor Robert Bentley, and Sharon Bell, the wife of Birmingham Mayor William Bell, were honorary co-chairs for the event which was held at the sixth floor of the restored historic Kress Building downtown.
The life-size Four Spirits memorial is finished and heading by truck to Birmingham. It is expected to arrive early next week and to be installed in time for its unveiling on a corner alongside Kelly Ingram Park, across from the church, on September 14. The committee behind the memorial has raised, in contributions and pledges, about $233,000 of the $250,000 price tag it originally set for the project.
“We still need a little help to get us over the top,” said committee member Drew Langloh, president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama, who was among those who spoke at the fundraiser.
“This is not just a Birmingham monument,” Langloh said. “This monument has national significance to lots and lots of people.”
“A lot of thought, a lot of soul went into this project,” said local attorney Martha Bozeman, another member of the nonprofit memorial committee. Birmingham-born sculptor Elizabeth MacQueen fashioned the memorial in foundries in the Berkeley, California, area. Photos of different parts of the sculpture, including depictions of the four slain girls – Denise McNair, 11, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14 – were part of a slide show on a video screen at the event. Six doves also are part of the memorial, symbolizing not only the souls of the girls but those of two young men, Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson, who were shot and killed in separate incidents after the bombing.
In an interview, Bentley said she and her husband would be attending the memorial’s dedication on September 15, the 50th anniversary of the bombing. Attorney General Eric Holder and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr., are also among those expected to attend.
“I think it’s a fitting thing to do after 50 years,” said Bentley, who was a student at the University of Alabama when the bombing took place. She called the bombing, which took place on a Sunday morning, a “part of our history that we’d like to forget.” But now something beautiful was going to commemorate the event, she said, and “I can’t wait to see it.”
Bell said she, like Denise McNair, was 11 years old when the bombing took place, and she called the girls “four innocent angels” whose spirits were looking down on tonight’s event with smiling approval. In 1963, she said there were nights when she had to lie down on the porch or in the bathtub in her home on 11th Street North because of the bombings that had plagued her neighborhood.
“It was very much like living in a third world country,” Bell said.
Those who wish to donate to the project can do so through the committee’s website.