Left: Carole Robertson, 14, was one of four girls killed in the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Right: The Congress for Racial Equity in 1963 marches in honor of the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombings. | Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Library of Congress

On the anniversary week of the Civil Rights-era bombing of a Black church in Birmingham, students and teachers at a West Side youth center are commemorating the legacy of the four girls killed in the White Supremacist attack.

The Sept. 15, 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan became a rallying cry for civil rights leaders that spurred the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Carole Robertson Centers for Learning is planning a week of lessons and activities for their students to celebrate the memory of the four girls and the intensified push for social change that followed their deaths.

The early education and youth development organization is named for one of the 14-year-old girls who was killed in the racist bombing, Carole Robertson. The other girls killed at the church were Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, 11. As many as 22 others in the church were injured in the bombing.

The second annual commemoration, dubbed Legacy Week, aims to “refresh our commitment to social justice and equity, not only through speech but through action, education and the provision of resources to our families,” said Candice Washington, teacher and co-chair of the group’s social justice and equity committee.

Activities for younger children will be geared toward “seeing the humanity of these four little girls,” Washington said. In their daily lessons, students will learn about Robertson’s life, and who she was as a person. 

“She was just a child who loved to laugh, who loved science and dancing,” Washington said.

The week’s activities will also highlight the tremendous impact Robertson and the other three victims had on the Civil Rights era. Their deaths mobilized masses of people to take to the streets, become politically engaged, and fight back against racism and segregation.

Days after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a eulogy for the girls where he pledge their deaths would not be in vain, describing them as “martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.” King also sent a message to Alabama’s governor that read, “The blood of our little children is on your hands.”

At least 160 students and staff across the Carole Robertson Centers in North Lawndale, Little Village and Albany Park will participate in a peace march Thursday to commemorate the lasting impact the young girls had on the advancement of social equity.

Older youth between ages 11-17 will create mixed-media murals throughout the week at each of the centers. The murals will be designed by the young people to depict the four victims of the bombings. Students will also participate in a reflective essay writing activity that will accompany the mural.

The center will screen the 1997 Spike Lee documentary, “4 Little Girls,” which will allow older children to “dive into the humanity and the lives of these four little girls, their families, Dr. King and give them an understanding of what really happened.”

All members of the communities surrounding the Carole Robertson Centers can take advantage of a free multicultural library stationed at each location: 2929 W. 19th St. in Little Village; 3701 W. Ogden Ave. in Lawndale; and 5101 N. Kimball Ave. in Albany Park.

The collection of books, activities and lesson plans will be set up on tables inside and outside the centers, and will consist of books that “enable students and children to gain a better understanding of both our culture and the cultures of others,” Washington said.

Last year’s Legacy Week at the center was a huge success, Washington said. The activities are meant to spark difficult conversations within the classrooms that can encourage young people to develop a strong compass that can guide them through social issues, she said.

“We want to show the children how they can get civically engaged in their communities. … and really start preparing our future leaders to become advocates for hope and justice,” she said.

CONTACT: pascal@blockclubchi.org