BIRMINGHAM TO COMMEMORATE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Dilcy Windham Hilley
Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau
800-458-8085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor’s Office of Public Information
205-254-2823 or email@example.com
BIRMINGHAM TO COMMEMORATE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA
Birmingham, Ala.----An afternoon at a lunch counter. A thousand arms linked at the elbow. A firing line of water hoses. A pack of German Shepherds. A letter from a Birmingham jail. A devastating explosion. A world that would never be the same.
The year was 1963, and as the world watched, events in Birmingham sparked an unstoppable surge toward equal rights for people of all races.
In the year leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Birmingham’s bravest men,
women and children risked their lives to abolish segregation and gain equal footing in a society of inequality. Not all the Birmingham stories leading up to 1963 are grim; stories of heroism and triumph also have their place in the history of the movement.
As Birmingham enters 2013, the city marks the 50th anniversary of pivotal events of the 1963 campaign. Plans for the commemoration call for a yearlong multi-city promotion to include a Civil Rights Trail linking cities with significant ties to the movement. Other cities participating in the salute to 1963 include Jackson, MS, Selma and Montgomery, AL, Columbia SC, Memphis, TN, and Washington, DC.
The marking of the anniversary received the endorsement of President Barack Obama, whose spokesperson called the planned commemoration “an extremely important initiative….”
“We are pleased the president recognizes the significance of activities planned for the year,” Birmingham Mayor William Bell said. “We expect this commemoration to attract attention nationwide and worldwide. It is impossible to overstate the importance of what took place in Birmingham during the civil rights campaign.”
Mayor Bell announced that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will co-chair the committee overseeing commemoration activities.
“Condoleezza Rice is from Birmingham and epitomizes a person who has built on our civil rights past to reach great heights on an international scale,” Mayor Bell said.
Large numbers of group tours as well as individual travelers are expected to visit Birmingham’s historic Civil Rights District along with other trail cities during 2013.
“The story of Birmingham’s role in the long march to civil rights has been told and retold around the world,” said Mayor Bell. “ With the opening of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 1992, the city found a place to tell its own story.”
Richly detailed exhibits in the institute reveal slices of black and white life in Alabama from the late 1800s to the present. A series of galleries tells the stories of daily life for African-Americans in the state and the nation and how dramatically different it was from the lives white people of the era took for granted.
One of the most compelling sites in the Civil Rights District is historic Kelly Ingram Park, across the street from the Civil Rights Institute. The park served as a gathering place for demonstrations in the early 1960s, including the ones in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers, many of them children. A new park audio tour, accessible by cell phone, has been rolled out for the 2013 commemoration.
Catercornered to the park is Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham’s most famous civil rights landmark. On a bright September morning in 1963, a dynamite bomb set by Ku Klux Klansmen exploded at the church, killing four little girls. For nearly five decades since that time, visitors have come from all over the world to honor the victims, Carole Robertson,
Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins. Now a new marker has been placed on
the east side of the church where the girls were killed in the ladies’ lounge as they prepared for morning worship.
Major special events also are planned for the commemorative year. Among the top events will be the world premiere of “A More Convenient Season” by composer Yotam Haber. The work is specifically designed to address the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist
Church, a turning point in America’s Civil Rights Movement. The score will be written to be performed by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra with guest conductor Damon Gupton and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church youth choir. The name is lifted from the text of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The Alys Stephens Center will present the work September 21, 2013.
A commemorative exhibit at Vulcan Park and Museum will tell the story of the black business district that emerged in Birmingham as Jim Crow laws took effect in the early 1900s. A Place of Our Own: The Fourth Avenue District, Civil Rights, and the Rise of Birmingham’s Black Middle Class will illustrate how the city’s historic black business district propelled the success of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.
Red Mountain Theatre Company will produce a one-act piece in honor of the 50th year of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written during his 1963 incarceration. The presentation will become the second act following readings of the “Letter to Martin Luther King” by a group of clergymen.
Event planners also hope to include showings of the 2012 Academy Award-nominated documentary The Barber of Birmingham. Among the heroes of the civil rights era was a Birmingham barber named James Armstrong. Armstrong, who died in 2009 at age 86, cut hair in his barber shop for more than 50 years. He also filed suit in 1957 to desegregate Birmingham public schools and carried an American flag over Selma’s famed Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965.
An exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art showcases 60 works by artists who interpreted the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing and other racial violence through photography, paintings and sculpture.
“This year will be not only a time to honor the leaders and events of 1963 but also to appreciate the distinct differences in the Birmingham of that time and the Birmingham of the present,” Mayor Bell said. “The Civil Rights Movement changed the world, and Birmingham provided a generous portion of the momentum.”