Series of free local events offer dialogue on race relations

Carol Denise McNair, 11 (from left); Carole Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14 died in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

Addie Mae Collins. Cynthia Wesley. Carole Robertson. Carol Denise McNair.

These are the four girls — all 14 years old except for Carol Denise, who was 11 — who were killed on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, when a bundle of dynamite planted beneath the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., exploded.

Twenty-two others were wounded in the racially motivated bombing. The victims were black. The dynamite had been planted by white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan.

Cynthia Hurd, 54. Susie Jackson, 87. Ethel Lance, 70. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49. Clementa Pinckney, 41. Tywanza Sanders, 26. Daniel Simmons, 74. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45. Myra Thompson, 59.

These are the nine parishioners of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston who were killed on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, when a gunman opened fire in the basement of the building during Bible study. The victims were black, the alleged suspect is white.

Families were torn asunder. A city was rocked as if by an earthquake. After the church shooting, the Charleston community showed remarkable unity in its repudiation of the violence and willingness to engage in discussions about race, history and more.

The College of Charleston Libraries, flush with $125,000 provided by Google to the Avery Research Center for the purpose of fostering such dialogue, is answering the call by organizing a series of free public events featuring guest speakers of national renown.

The first is called “Ties That Bind Two Holy Cities: Reflections in Charleston by Survivors of the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing.”

It begins with a screening of the film “4 Little Girls” by Spike Lee at 6 p.m. Monday in Room 227 of the Addlestone Library, 205 Calhoun St. A discussion will follow the screening.

A community forum is planned for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Burke High School auditorium, 244 President St., featuring Sarah Collins Rudolph, Junie Collins Williams and Janie Collins Simpkins, sisters of Addie Mae.

A representative of Emanuel AME Church also will speak at the forum, and Mother Emanuel’s Clara K. Washington Choir will perform, beginning at 6 p.m.

“It is important that we remember that the brutal attack on Mother Emanuel happened within a larger context,” said College of Charleston’s Dean of Libraries John White. “White terrorism aimed at African-American churches has a long history. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Birmingham, Ala., which faced a similar, unspeakable tragedy in 1963. We hope that an honest discussion about this history of racial violence can help us make certain that we never have to confront another tragedy like this in Birmingham, Charleston or elsewhere.”

The college is planning at least two more public events for this academic year featuring special guests and open dialogue.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at writer.