This morning I snapped pictures of a sculptural installation in the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The sculpture is composed of strangely beautiful pieces of burned wood hanging on colorless string. The window light and the spotlights increase the magnetism. Each photo taken with my small phone-camera was strangely evocative, of what? Some sadness I’ve been carrying lately, perhaps.
A tall, African American guard in a dark suit came up to me briskly, but his face was open, vulnerable even. It used to be against the rules to photograph in museums, but now that is a useless effort, especially with discrete cell-phone pics. He asked if I knew what these hanging fragments were. I said I did not. Maybe it was my dreadlocks that drew him into my artistic reverie with the sculpture.
He began. “It is the church, the Baptist Church in Birmingham Mississippi that was bombed in sixty-three.” Spike Lee’s images flooded my head. I felt a jolt of rawness I’ve come to know in the vulnerable moments since my husband was in the hospital a couple weeks ago. I looked at him. “Four young girls died that day.
Is this the remains of the building? God.” He nodded. Spike Lee’s documentary 4 Little Girls released in 1997 hurt my heart. I could hardly watch it after the moment of the bomb.
The press carried words something like this: On a quiet Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, four little black girls prepared their Sunday School lessons in the basement of the church. In the same basement sat a bomb placed by segregationists, designed to kill and maim in protest of the forced integration of Birmingham’s public schools….
These photos are dedicated to Denise McNair (11), Addie McCollins (14), Carole Robinson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14), the four young girls whose death marked a turning point for Civil Rights in America. Never forgotten.
From: Birmingham Sunday by Langston Hughes
Four little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all—
… Four little girls
Might be awakened someday soon
By songs upon the breeze
As yet unfelt among
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