Today is the anniversary of the 16th St Church bombing. In light of all the terrorism in the world, is it still relevant to remember this event? Many more than 4 young girls have been killed in school massacres, movie theaters, the Twin Towers. What about that particular bomb planted in the dead of night at a black church in 1963 makes us pause in our busy days . . . and remember?
I’m not sure I can answer this fully. I do know that it is important to remember the awful cost of hate in any form it manifests and that remembering one incident does not mean forgetting others. But that said, this bombing symbolized the cost of hatred in a way that brought to light how it had festered in our midst for so long and made us face that as a nation, opening a path for real change.
A chance encounter made me think about this:
I’m in beautiful Charleston, SC and stop at a shoe store. Great shoes in this city! Am wearing a hot pink US Marine tee shirt (yes, really) that matches my toenails. An African American sales lady approaches and, noting my tee shirt, tells me about all of her many family members who are in the armed forces, though she stayed home to raise her children. As we chat, she asks where I’m from.
“Birmingham, Alabama,” I say.
“Oh my father went to Birmingham a few years ago,” she says. “My brother’s school also went.”
I give her my “author” postcard, and she wrinkles her forehead. “You’re T.K. Thorne?”
I nod. This is a fun part for me, as people seem astonished at meeting an author. I get the same reaction when they find out this little silver-haired lady (me) was once a police officer.
But she surprises me when she says, “I know your name!”
Sometimes people think they’ve heard of you, so I didn’t think much about it, but she pointed to LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE on my card.
“You wrote this book?
“My father went to B’ham for the 50th anniversary and bought two copies of this book! The author was signing them at the 16th Street Church.”
In fact, we had launched the book at the church.
We chat a bit more and then she looks at me and says, “I feel like crying. Thank you for writing this book.”
“No, THANK YOU for writing this book.”
She repeats this twice more before what she is really saying sinks in, and then I feel like crying too. I almost didn’t write this book. There were lots of reasons not to, but I am so thankful that I did. The words “honor” and “privilege” sometimes get bantered about, but at this moment, they really hit me. It was an honor and a privilege, and I will be grateful for having told this story and written this book for the rest of my life.