This Black History Month, let’s remember the two little boys
Posted on Mar 05, 2013 in Opinion
This Black History Month, the city of Birmingham is celebrating a special milestone. Fifty years have passed since the most active, violent parts of the Civil Rights Movement occurred in Birmingham. We’ve come pretty far since the days of policemen hosing down marchers and spraying tear gas.
One of the most significant events in our city’s history was the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. The incident garnered national attention and continues to serve as an example of the senseless violence that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement. The deaths of those four little black girls in the church’s basement broke the hearts not only of African-Americans across the country, but even those of some racist whites.
In a 2000 issue of Texas Monthly, Pamela Colloff quoted the son of one of the bombers: “No matter…what color you are, when a kid is killed, it throws a different light on things.”
Every year, we make a point of remembering the highlights of black history—African tradition, slavery, civil rights, and the struggle for equality. There has been a resurgence of interest in uncovering the untold stories of black history such as slave narratives, but of course, many details still remain obscured. Indeed, there is one aspect of the Civil Rights Movement that would hit much closer to home, especially for us Birmingham residents, if only we would let it.
Try a Google search for “Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, 1963,” and you’ll probably see the same phrase surface over and over again: “Four little girls.” We honor the legacy of those four little girls every year during February and September (the month of the attack), but unfortunately, this legacy is incomplete.
In 2003, Time published a piece on Virgil Ware, the sixth person who died on September 15, 1963. The article’s brief mention of the fifth casualty did not even include the victim’s name. It was Johnnie Robinson, who was shot by the police for throwing rocks at cars full of white kids.
Most Alabamians recognize at least one or two of the names of the four little girls: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair. But why have we swept Virgil and Johnnie—the two little boys—under the rug for so long? While my intention is in no way to minimize the loss that the girls’ families endured, it is unfair for us to continually fail to recognize the Wares’ and the Robinsons’ struggles.
Virgil was shot by a boy who had been dared by his friend to fire the trigger of a revolver and scare Virgil and his brother, James, as they rode along on a bicycle. Yet, the one (and only one) significant article with more information about Virgil Ware is in a 2003 issue of Time.
Johnnie is a different story. He was shot in the back by police officers for throwing rocks at cars whose passengers were taunting and threatening him, by waving confederate flags from their windows. From what little information is available, it appears that Johnnie had spent some time in juvenile detention. There is much discord over the exact circumstances of his death. This reeks of a great story waiting to be written, but it hasn’t been written.
The Civil Rights Movement constitutes a monumental period of time in Birmingham history. As Birmingham residents, it is only right—in fact, vital—that we familiarize ourselves with all aspects of the bombing, a hallmark of the movement, and not limit our remembrance to the most easily accessible stories. We must remember not only the four little girls, but also the two little boys who were killed on September 15, 1963.