An afternoon at a lunch counter. A thousand arms linked at the elbows. 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. As Birmingham enters 2013, the city will mark the 50th anniversary of pivotal events of 1963 in America’s Civil Rights Movement.
Birmingham’s historic Civil Rights District was ground zero for the 1963 campaign. With the opening of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 1992, the city found a place to tell its story. Richly detailed exhibits in the institute reveal slices of black and white life in Alabama from the late 1800s to the present.
One of the most compelling sites in the Civil Rights District is Kelly Ingram Park. The park served as a gathering place for demonstrations in the early 1960s, including ones in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers, many of them children.
Across from 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 as they prepared for morning worship.
Special exhibitions and events are planned to commemorate the year of 1963. A Sample of Special Events for the 2013 Commemoration:
December 2012 – February 2013 – Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “Black from the Heart of Dixie” honors some of the most influential African-Americans to come out of Alabama.
January 13 – April 7, 2013 – Birmingham Museum of Art. “Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina” is an exhibit of formative African American vessels that represent the difficulties of being a slave on a Southern plantation.
February 2013 – New Gallery of African Ceramics Opens at Birmingham Museum of Art. The works come from West, Central and Southern Africa and were created for utilitarian and ritual use.
March – November, 2013 – Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “Marching On: The Children’s Movement at Fifty” tells the story of the Children’s Crusade through the people who participated in 1963.
March 12-14, 2013 –National Association for the Study and Performance of African-American music. More than 4,000 musicians are expected for the conference.
Spring 2013 – Birmingham Museum of Art. Chicago artist Theaster Gates creates minimalistic homages to the violence of the 1960s using decommissioned fire hoses and found objects. The fire hoses evoke the indelible images of police water cannon used on demonstrators in 1963.
April – June, 2013 – Location TBA. Academy award nominated documentary showing of “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement.”
April 11-14, 2013 – Red Mountain Theatre Company. A one-act play in honor of the 50th year of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written during his 1963 incarceration.
April 5 – September 29, 2013 – Vulcan Park and Museum. “A Place of Our Own: The Fourth Avenue District, Civil Rights and the Rise of Birmingham’s Black Middle Class” – The exhibition illustrates how the historic black business district propelled the success of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.
May 2, 2013 – Birmingham’s Civil Rights District. On May 2, 1963, more than a thousand black students gathered at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to begin an unprecedented march downtown, facing police lines and arrests. The “Children’s Crusade,” as it was dubbed internationally, is to be re-enacted with public participation on its 50th anniversary. In conjunction, the “Children’s March” exhibition opens at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
May 24-25, 2013 – Beginning at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Grand Foot Soldier Reunion Parade with participants from across the nation
June 1, 2013– Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Juneteenth Culture Festival, a free family celebration with music, vendors, children’s activities and contests, commemorating the oldest known celebration marking the end of slavery in the United States.
August 18 – November 17, 2013 – Birmingham Museum of Art. “Etched in Collective History” is an exhibition of 60 works by 30 artists who interpreted the 1963 church bombing and racial violence through photography, paintings and sculpture.
August 22, 2013 – Lyric Theater (Birmingham’s only existing theater that allowed blacks and whites to attend performances at the same time during segregation era). Presented by the Birmingham Museum of Art, mixed media artist Jefferson Pinder proposes to create an art performance to capture the era of segregation through poetry and music. “Belly of the Beast” is a vocal duel between a black gospel choir and white bluegrass singers.
September 1-7, 2013 – Historic Fourth Avenue Business District/Carver Theater. The Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival and the Civil Rights Film Festival bring traditional and contemporary jazz street performances together with a festival featuring civil rights-themed films.
September 8 – December 2, 2013 – Birmingham Museum of Art. “The Dawoud Bey Project” is a new body of work by acclaimed photographer Dawoud Bey. It symbolically commemorates the four girls killed in the September 15, 1963, bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, as well as the two Birmingham boys who died in the resulting violence that day.
September 12-15, 2013 – Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Empowerment Week includes the 2013 National Conference of Civil Rights.
September 12-22, 2013 – Virginia Samford Theater. “To Kill a Mockingbird”
September 15, 2013 – Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
September 19, 2013 – UAB Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. “4” – Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Eric Essix performs songs that commemorate the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in which four young girls were killed.
September 21, 2013 – UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. “A More Convenient Season” – Composer Yotam Haber created this orchestral work to address the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. The score will be performed by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church youth choir.
October 6 – December 29 – Birmingham Museum of Art. “Question Bridge: Black Males” is a transmedia art project that counters notions of black masculinity in the U.S. Men from Birmingham are included in this dialogue about race, class, sexuality and economic status.
October 7-19, 2013 – Birmingham Children’s Theatre (Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex). “The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963” is adapted from Christopher Paul Curtis’s popular young people’s book. It tells the story of the Watson family from Flint, Michigan, who is visiting Birmingham when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is bombed.“The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963” is adapted from Christopher Paul Curtis’s popular young people’s book. It tells the story of the Watson family from Flint, Michigan, who is visiting Birmingham when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is bombed.
November 3 – December 27, 2013 – Birmingham Public Library-Downtown. “Unseen, Unforgotten: The Civil Rights Photographs of The Birmingham News”
Events during the 50th commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham are being added regularly.
For more information, visit: http://50yearsforward.com/