By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham on Thursday commemorated the 59th year since the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963 that killed four girls with a memorial service and a renovated church parsonage which honored Black civic leaders of the 1880s to 1920s.
Clergy and city leaders held a ribbon cutting on a renovated parsonage, converted into a $2.5 million museum honoring businessman William Pettiford, architect Wallace Rayfield and contractor Thomas Windham.
Pettiford founded the Alabama Penny Savings Bank in 1890 and was pastor of Sixteenth Street from 1883 to 1893; Rayfield, the second formally practicing African American architect in the United States, designed the church building and personage in 1909 and Thomas C. Windham was contractor for the church building and chairman of the church’s trustee board.
“The parsonage represents the building of the Black community when most did not have the courage to stand up,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales.
The opening of the museum followed a memorial service inside where Dr. Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, TX, delivered a message of hope.
While it’s important to look to the past, or the “rearview mirror,” to guide decisions today, Evans said the Black community needs to keep a focus on the future.
“You need to know about the tragedies, slavery and lynching—all of the ignominious evils that are part of that rearview mirror, but since you’re going home, since you’re headed toward your future, since you’re headed toward your destiny . . . spend most of your time in the windshield,” he said.
The struggles of Black people in America led to the birth of the Black church, a community institution that lasts today, said Evans.
During the service, Birmingham attorney Gaile Pugh Gratton Greene delivered a litany honoring the names of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, the four girls who died in the bombing.
“Addie Mae, Denise, Carole and Cynthia, we honor your names because you were blameless and harmless in the midst of a divided and imperfect nation and you shine as lights across the world,” Greene read.
After closing with a rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” clergy, including Rev. Thomas Wilder of Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville, Evans and Sixteenth Street’s Rev. Arthur Price Jr. lay a wreath in the spot where the bomb was placed 59 years ago and prayed.
Among the leaders present during the day’s activities were Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin; Jefferson County Commissioners Scales and Sheila Tyson; City Councilor and Birmingham Park Board Commissioner Carol Clarke and Birmingham Board of Education President Jason Meadows.