The 4 Little Girls Memorial Fund, which has provided college scholarships for three decades in memory of the four young girls killed in the heinous bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church will host a 50-Year Commemorative Tribute and Fundraiser Saturday, September 14 — the day before the anniversary of the bombing — 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Established in 1983 as a 501(c)3 private foundation by AmSouth Bank and The Birmingham News, the 4 Little Girls Memorial Fund strives to honor and preserve the memory of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, whose young lives were extinguished in an instant by the infamous bombing of the church.
Attorney Gail Pugh Gratton, president of the Memorial Fund board, seeks to give aspiring college students the opportunities that the four little girls never had.
“The heartbreaking deaths of Addie Mae, Denise, Carole and Cynthia 50 years ago became the catalyst for landmark Civil Rights legislation intended to promote justice and equality for all,” said Gratton. “Over the ensuing years, the Memorial Fund has paid homage to the girls’ ultimate sacrifice by paving new pathways for opportunity and success through college scholarships.”
Growing out of that tragedy, the 4 Little Girls Memorial Fund has awarded more than $250,000 in scholarships to 69 exceptional students since the first grants were made for the 1984-85 school year. By raising funds and awarding scholarships annually, the fund helps deserving students fulfill their dream of getting a college education.
Recipients of the scholarships have gone on to success. This year, Johnalynn Green received a Memorial Fund scholarship. Now a student at Miles College in Birmingham, she is president of Beta Kappa Chi Honors Society, vice president of recruitment and retention of the honors curriculum program, Student Government Association senator, manager of the women’s basketball team and a student ambassador. The current “Miss Miles College” works in the administrative office of strategic planning.
Another recipient, Toni Wiley, graduated from Georgetown University in 2001 with a degree in theology and pre-medicine and a minor in biology. She worked at UAB as a research interviewer in the Division of Preventive Medicine and now works for the American Red Cross in Birmingham as “Manager of Level One Problem Investigations” with oversight of the Appalachian, Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic and Puerto Rico territories.
The September 14 event is a fundraiser for scholarships with admission by invitation or ticket only. Special guests will include family members of the four little girls, former and current Memorial Fund scholarship recipients, as well as local, state and congressional dignitaries. Attorney Gail Pugh Gratton and Odessa Woolfolk serve as president and vice president of the board, respectively.
Gratton said that the goal of this fund is simple and straightforward – that from the ashes of hatred and destruction might come tolerance, understanding and unity, modeled in lives of meaningful service to this community and world.
“As Birmingham marks the 50th anniversary of September 15, 1963, we invite the public to join us in honoring the lives and memory of Addie Mae, Denise, Carole and Cynthia by making a contribution to the 4 Little Girls Memorial Fund,” Gratton said.
As part of the city’s 50 Years Forward celebration, individual tickets to the 4 Little Girls Memorial Tribute are $50 (of which $40 is tax deductible) and all proceeds will benefit the 4 Little Girls Memorial Fund. Patron tickets and other sponsorship levels are also available.