Nearly 60 years ago, a bomb tore through Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls and rocking the nation. In remembrance of this horrific event and in the spirit of restoration and education, the city of Birmingham and its partners will host the 2023 Forging Justice Commemoration Week September 10-16, 2023.
The community is invited to share in a series of discussions with nationally acclaimed thought leaders, a conference on healing, art interpretations, a film screening, a visit by international dignitaries and a special keynote by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
“In the aftermath of that fateful day on Sept. 15, 1963, our city and our nation had to take a hard look at itself and reckon with the devasting effects of hate and racism,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin. “Today, in the spirit of the Four Little Girls, we work to be better and honor them by preserving our history and building a future worthy of their sacrifice.”
All year long, the city of Birmingham–with leadership by the Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity–along with area churches, arts organizations, businesses, and nonprofits have commemorated the 1963 Birmingham civil and human rights movement. The theme for the year is “Forging Justice.” Birmingham is known for its steel production and its racial past. Today, however, just like steel melds together different elements to make a singular strong force, the city has worked to forge relationships among all races, religions, ethnicities, and creeds.
From hosting an international peace conference to a children’s march reenactment, creating a free poster series, and opening of the historic A.G. Gaston Motel, residents and visitors have joined to reflect and remember the challenges, lessons, and triumphs of the historic year of 1963. The commemoration continues with this upcoming series of events:
- “Life and Legacy of A. G. Gaston” Exhibit. Learn about business titan A.G. Gaston, his businesses, motel, and legacy of filling the needs of the Black community. Presented by City of Birmingham and National Park Service. September 12-16, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. A. G. Gaston Motel, 1510 5th Avenue North
- Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project: The Birmingham Museum of Art will present the highly acclaimed exhibition Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project. Opening its doors to the public on September 14, this poignant exhibition consists of a series of diptychs by renowned photographer Dawoud Bey that pays homage to the legacy of the tragic event while celebrating the resilience and strength of the Birmingham community. On Wednesday, Sept. 13, Dawoud Bey will serve as the speaker for the BMA’s annual Chenoweth lecture with distinguished scholar Dr. Imani Perry. Together, they will delve into the intersection of art, history, and social justice. The lecture is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception. Register at org.
- Birmingham 1963-2023: Creating a Path to Reconciliation: On Thursday, Sept. 14, in remembrance of the events of 1963, the Ballard House Project, Inc., and its partners invite the Birmingham community to engage in critical, intergenerational dialogue with scholar, author, and nationally recognized thought leader Dr. Eddie Glaude. The event will also highlight messages from civil rights family members and inspirational music. The transformative event is free and will take place at 16th Street Baptist Church, 1530 Sixth Ave. North. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; the event begins at 6 p.m. Register here.
- 4 Little Girls documentary screening. The Morgan Project will host a screening of the Spike Lee documentary 4 Little Girls on Thursday, Sept. 14 at the Sidewalk Film Center, and Cinema, located at 1821 2nd Ave. North. There will be a virtual introduction by Lee. The screening begins at 5 p.m. and at 7 p.m. there will be a conversation with survivors and the victims’ family. For details, go to org.
- Watsons Go to Birmingham School Field Trip Day: Christopher Paul Curtis’ book The Watsons Go to Birmingham will be brought to life with hands-on, curriculum-based field trip for 4th-8th graders on Thursday, Sept. 14. Students will listen to music of the 1960s, play jacks and hopscotch, read poetry by Langston Hughes, and map out the route that the Watsons took from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama. There will also be a vintage car show sponsored by The Iron City Cruisers and the Dixie Vintage Auto Club, featuring a 1937 Plymouth like The Watson’s “Brown Bomber.” The hands-on event will run from 9 a.m. until noon with an optional screening of Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls for middle schoolers at the Lyric Theater at 1 p.m. Partners include Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, The Historic Bethel Baptist Church, the University of Illinois Center for Children’s Books, Birmingham Public Library, the Hoover Public Library, The Morgan Project, Make it Happen Children’s Theater, Sloss Furnaces, the Footsoldiers Headquarters, Humanities Foundation Alliance, the National Park Foundation, and The Ballard House Project.
- Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Commemorates Church Bombing: With the theme of “Looking 60 years forging Justice for a Better World,” the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church will commemorate the 60th year anniversary of the church bombing on Friday, Sept. 15 at 9:30 a.m. The morning will feature a litany and reflection, music by the Carlton Reese Memorial and Miles College choirs; words from Wales Minister for Economy Vaughan Gething, and a special keynote by the first African American female U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. For more information, go to 16thstreetbaptist.org.
Through His Eye: The Photography of Chris McNair: The City of Birmingham will highlight the work of the late photographer Chris McNair with an exhibition of images he captured during the movement, including a portrait of his late daughter Denise who was killed in the church bombing. The exhibit is on the second floor of Birmingham City Hall, located at 710 20th Street North. Visitors can view the collection Mondays through Fridays, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. until Friday, Sept. 29. For details, go to www.birminghamal.gov/mcnairexhibit.
Four Little Girls Play. As part of the Human Rights New Works Festival, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church joins Red Mountain Theatre for a reading of Christina Ham’s Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963. The one-act play brings joy, life, and music to the story of Denise, Carole, Cynthia, and Addie Mae, innocent children living in a divided country. Sunday, Sept. 24. at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Red Mountain Theatre Arts Campus. Tickets at redmountaintheatre.org.
Updates regarding the 2023 Forging Justice Commemoration Week can be found at birminghamal.gov/commemorationweek.