Posts Tagged 16th Street Baptist Church

Mississippi *@!!?*@!

by Vincent Hannam

One of the things I love most about writing and blogging (and consequently theatre as a whole) is the chance to broaden my education on all kinds of subjects that I had never either heard about or took the time to research. One of those subjects is Nina Simone as an artist and civil rights activist and her song “Mississippi Goddam” which, I’ll admit, I’d never heard until Park Square Theatre’s Nina Simone: Four Women. I began thinking about how a song from fifty-three years ago has succeeded so much in the face of so much turmoil. When I was reading into that signature song I saw this picture of the original album sleeve with the latter word bleeped out. Now that kind of title would bristle more than a few feathers today, so I can imagine the world of 1964 just losing its mind – probably more so in certain parts of the country than others, but lost minds nonetheless.


That year Simone said to hell with it and released a song that was a direct attack on the social order of the South, where blacks were treated as a second-class citizens at best and out right murdered at worst. It was her response to a time in the early ’60s when the Civil Rights Movement was at an apex with the murder of Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963. For Simone, the song was her own turning point: she had had enough with the system and decided that this song and getting into the fight for racial equality was more important than pleasing her mostly white fans. Go ahead and listen to the song and really hear not just the lyrics, but the passion and cry for justice in her voice.

While the song became an anthem of the era, it was banned in several southern states who were able to use the profanity in the title as their excuse for not airing it. I have a hard time believing that even if the song was called, “Mississippi the Beautiful”, it would have found any widespread air play.


It’s a shame because the people who needed to hear it the most were the ones unwilling or unable to do so. If there is any solace in this history it’s that the song has quite clearly lived on while segregation is now a thing of the past. I think this is a valuable lesson to anyone who tries to clamp down on expression and ideas, no matter how controversial. That you can’t silence a voice forever – it will always find a crack in the wall to seep it’s way through, getting to people and spreading slowly but surely. Nina Simone was that voice and while she had the fame to back her up, she has inspired countless others with zero notoriety to make their voices heard no matter what the censors might do to silence them.

Note: Nina Simone: Four Women has been extended through Sunday, March 5.

A Story in Numbers

Regina Marie Williams, Jamila Anderson and Aimee K. Bryant in Nina Simone: Four Women (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Regina Marie Williams, Jamila Anderson and Aimee K. Bryant in Nina Simone: Four Women
(Photo by Michael Hanisch)

In Park Square Theatre’s Nina Simone: Four Women, which is set inside the heavily damaged 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the presence of the four girls killed in the bombing is clearly felt, a powerful force that propels the four women together to tell their own stories. A fifth girl was with the four girls when the dynamite exploded, but she managed to survive the attack, though not without grave injuries. In Nina Simone, the tale of the four women are told through songs. The story of the girls, in contrast, can be told in stark numbers. Both accounts inform our nation’s history–its past, present and movement into the future.

Survivor Sarah Collins, 12 years old

Survivor Sarah Collins, 12 years old

1 Girl survived the bombing: Sarah Collins

3 Months in the hospital for Sarah Collins, who lost her right eye in the bombing

Top l to r: Adie Mae Collins (14) and Denise McNair (11) Bottom l to r: Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14)

Top l to r: Adie Mae Collins (14) and Denise McNair (11)
Bottom l to r: Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14)

4 Girls killed in the bombing: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair

4 Klansmen suspected in the bombing: Robert Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Cash and Thomas E. Blanton, Jr.

6 Month jail sentence for Robert Chambliss and cleared of the murder charge

9 Month of the bombing: September

11 Years Old: Denise McNair

12 Years Old: Sarah Collins

14 Years Old: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins

14 Years before Robert Chambliss was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment (1977) after Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the bombing case

15 Day of the bombing in September at 10:22 am; parishioners were listening to Reverend Arthur Price’s sermon, “A Love That Forgives”

15 Sticks of dynamite (from 122 sticks purchased by Robert Chambliss) planted in the church basement

16th Street Church bombing

16th Street Church bombing

16 th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed in 1963

20 Approximate other members of the congregation injured in the bombing

31 Years after the bombing when Herman Cash dies without conviction (1994)

33 Years after the bombing when the Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, is set on fire as part of an 18-month stretch of arson directed at southern black churches (1996)

37 Years before Thomas E. Blanton, Jr. is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment (2000)

39 Years before Bobby Frank Cherry is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment (2002)

45 Years after the bombing when three white men in Springfield, Massachusetts, set ablaze the Macedonia Church of God in Christ hours after Obama’s inauguration (2008)

50 Years after the bombing when the five girls were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian honors in America; survivor Sarah Collins Rudolph initially declined to attend the ceremony (2013)

52 Years after the bombing when 21-year-old white supremist Dylan Roof kills 9 and injures 3 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina (2015)

63 Year of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama

64 Year that Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act

68 Year that FBI chairman J. Edgar Hoover closed the bombing investigation without prosecutions nor filing charges

100 Dollars fine for Robert Chambliss in addition to the initial short 6-month jail sentence (until he was finally convicted in 1977)

200 Church members attending Sunday school classes when the dynamite went off at the 16th Street Baptist Church

8000 Approximate number of mourners that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed at a funeral for three of the girls (one girl’s family held a private funeral)



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