16th Street Baptist Church is a National Historic Landmark, a designation that they achieved in 2006. It is the site of one of the most heinous acts in our state’s and nation’s history. On September the 15th, 1963 at 10:22 in the morning four innocent little girls were preparing for Sunday School down in the ladies lounge when a bomb exploded killing the four of them and two young men on the street. This event would rock the nation and the world as the civil rights leaders of the times and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would descend upon Birmingham to continue to the fight against racial injustice in the segregated south.
We worked with 16th Street Baptist to honor the memory of the four little girls but also to tell the story of the church from its founding in 1873. We used historian David Currey to collaborate with 16th Street to create the interpretive piece of the project. This timeline is outlined in the perimeter of the basement along with video wall and monitors placed throughout the space with stream content related to the bombing and civil rights movement. 16th Street also provide us with various artifacts as well which are inserted throughout the timeline to help tell their story.
The centerpiece of the project is their experience room that we created. It contains pews from the original sanctuary and the clock that stopped at 10;22 on the day of the bombing. There is a fifteen minute documentary film that was created for the room by historian David Currey. The film features many poignant interviews including one with Sarah Collins the lone survivor of the blast that morning and sister to victim Addie Mae Collins. Dr. King’s live eulogy is used throughout the film and at the end as a powerful and emotional reminder that they did not die in vain that day.
The newest addition to this project is the restored and repurposed church parsonage. The museum house turned museum honors black civic leaders of the 1880’s to 1920’s. Complete with panoramic views, LED SEG graphics, a custom reception table, artifacts and striking graphic stand-off images this house tells the story of Wallace A. Rayfield, the architect who designed the 16th Street Baptist Church that was built in 1911. Other honorees include former 16th Street Baptist Pastor William R. Pettiford, who founded the Alabama Penny Savings Bank that offered business and home loans for Blacks during Reconstruction, and Thomas C. Windham, a contractor and church trustee chairman who oversaw construction on the church.
A big thanks to Ted Debro and Reverend Price and the members of 16th Street Baptist Church was allowing us to help you tell your story. It has truly been and honor and a privilege.