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Bombingham, Alabama

Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner 48 p. Boyds Mills Press, January, 2010.

Warning: be prepared for an emotional wallop when you read this book. The end pages of this gorgeously designed book scream the headline from the Birmingham Post-Herald, dateline: September 16, 1963: "Bomb Blasts Church, Kills 4...State Troopers Rushed..." At the bottom, a simple italicized (but unattributed) quote floats: Birmingham suffered so many racially motivated bombings...the city was nicknamed "Bombingham."

The title page features a black and white photograph of a stained glass window of Christ and the book is dedicated to the six young people who died that day. For me, who has read a bit about this unthinkable act of terrorism, I'm already in tears. 

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, ten to nineteen sticks of dynamite  were place under the stairs. A huge hole was blasted into the foundation of the church, burying five girls between the ages of 11 and 14, who had to use the rest room before services started. Only one survived and she lost an eye. How could this happen?

Much of the rest of this photo essay explores the racial hatred of the Jim Crow south and the reaction across the south, but in Birmingham, in particular, to the growing influence of The Civil Rights Movement. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and its charismatic pastor, Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, were viewed as a magnet for protestors and Shuttleworth, a rabble-rouser.

The riveting narrative is liberally illustrated with black and white photographs and powerful quotes set off on what looks like torn paper. What is striking to even the casual reader, if there can be one, is the callous, un-selfconscious pride of the racial hatred of many southerners at the time.The back-matter is plentiful, including an author's note and acknowledgments, detailed chapter notes and a long list of recommended readings, including the book I paired with it below. This is a first-purchase for school libraries. 

I read this aloud to my eighth graders in 2008 and you could hear a pin drop in the library. Talk about emotional wallop!

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford. 39 p. Boyds Mills Press, September, 2007

In spare blank verse, an un-named, fictional, ten-year-old reflects on the momentous  Civil Rights events of the year she turned ten, and then on the unspeakable tragedy on the day she turned ten, September 15, 1963.

The book's trim is small and square, with the lines of the poem on the left page, decorated with washed out photos of the detritus of childhood, like pencils, erasers, white, turn-down socks, but punctuated with slashes of red. The right pages are occupied by full-page black and white photographs from a variety of Civil Rights events, through a Klansman posing with a shotgun through the damage to the church. The poem ends with the words, The day I turned ten,/There was no birthday cake with candles;/ Just cinders, ash and a wish I were still nine. What a terrible loss of innocence.

Four poems follow, each in memoriam for one of the four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson. A two-page author note follows. Photo credits and suggested readings recommend four books and two web sites. I have one of the books in my collection, already and tried to visit the websites. 

One of the frustrations with checking out Internet resources is the changing nature of the the web and the sometimes long, involved urls that are oh so difficult to type without making a mistake. Of course, both websites were active at the time of publication. Only one is now - The Birmingham Civil Rights Collection. It's definitely worth a look. Unfortunately the Birmingham Public Library link was no longer active and I couldn't find it when I backed up and tried to find it by searching the Digital Collection. 

As I mentioned at the top of this second entry, when I read it aloud, you could hear a pin drop. I followed it up by showing a section of the documentary, Free at Last. 

Now, of course, I have Mr. Brimner's work to share as a backdrop.