BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — September 15, 1963 began as just another day in the height of the civil rights movement. In Birmingham, though, what seemed like a normal day took a tragic turn when a dynamite blast at the 16th Street Baptist Church took the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair and Cynthia Wesley.
The event has been called a turning point in the civil rights movement in Birmingham and across the nation. But in Birmingham there was something missing. For years, there was no substantial memorial to the four girls who helped turn the tide from hate to hope.
Four Spirits, Inc. was formed to change that and provide a memorial to the four girls. The Four Spirits, Inc. Board of Governors commissioned artist Elizabeth MacQueen, who lived in Mountain Brook in 1963, to make a sculpture memorializing the four girls.
“That following Monday at Mountain Brook Junior High School we all heard about the girls in the church,” MacQueen said of the days following the bombing in 1963. “I was [in Birmingham]. We were the same age.”
She understood the importance of having an adequate memorial in Birmingham and put in hours of hard work crafting the bronze sculpture from her studio in Berkeley, California.
CBS42 was able to follow MacQueen along the way as she perfected the memorial, which will be unveiled in Kelly Ingram Park on Saturday, September 14.
“[The girls] are having a good time. They are doing characteristically what is unique to each girl,” MacQueen said of the sculpture’s appearance. “It’s like three minutes before the bomb goes off, and there are just these beautiful, happy, wonderful, serious – all sorts of emotions.”
In the end, her handiwork is a worthy memorial to four girls who helped galvanize the civil rights movement.
“I wanted to show that they’re little girls in the prime of their life and beginning of their lives,” she said, describing what she wants the monument to depict.
MacQueen’s work sends a message of life, not death. It sends a message of hope and honor and gives Birmingham and the four girls a memorial that was long overdue.
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