On Sept. 15, 1963, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted and detonated a bomb in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls and injuring over 20 others.
This event would come to be seen as a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and it has subsequently inspired generations of American activists, authors and artists attempting to understand a horrific crime and use it to stir something in others.
One such piece of inspiration is a play by Christina M. Ham entitled “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963,” which is an examination not only of the events surrounding the bombing, but with a particular focus on the lives and ambitions of four real and not necessarily perfect young women.
The Troy University Department of Theatre and Dance is sponsoring a staged reading of Ham’s play in conjunction with numerous other university and community theaters around the country as a part of Project1Voice, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about these issues both past and present as well as revitalizing African-American theaters all over the nation.
Sept. 15 will mark the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Bombing and provides the perfect occasion for a tribute to the victims of the crime, with the show taking place at 5 p.m. in the Trojan Center Arts Theatre.
On the same day, at the same time, the same play will be performed by nearly 40 other theaters, forcing a country to remember and reexamine an event it may have tried to forget.
The director of the piece being performed here, Troy University acting professor Quinton Cockrell, considers the play’s overall purpose is to show “insight into the day-to-day lives of these girls, their time at school, their friends, but also their future hopes, ambitions.”
“We don’t need to see them martyred, lifeless, cast in stony black and white photographs.”
Cockrell feels that the cultural memory surrounding the bombing has lost its detail, becoming a “foggy remembrance.”
Through this play he believes that this country’s cultural memory can be jogged, “forcing people to reexamine and acknowledge the inherent prejudice and bigotry permeating this society, on all sides.”
Troy University students Amber Ball, Psacoya Guinn, Keiontra Brooks and Kimberly Watson will be portraying the titular four little girls: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, respectively.
The rest of the cast is composed of other performers from the Department of Theatre and Dance, who will portray various aspects of Birmingham society from the time, providing other insights into attitudes and behaviors of 1963 as well as into the girls’ personal lives.
The house will open with free admission for the performance at 4:15 p.m. on Sept. 15, with the show beginning at 5 p.m.