Four Spirits (memorial)

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Four Spirits is a monument to the four victims of the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church which was installed at Kelly Ingram Park on the 50th anniversary of the attack, in September 2013. It was created by sculptor Elizabeth MacQueen.

Tempe, Arizona-based sculptor John Waddell was immediately moved to create a work responding to the loss of four young lives. Completed in 1964, "That Which Might Have Been: Birmingham, 1963" depicted four nude figures of adult women, posed to express conflicting emotions of hope, fear, shame and love. The grouping was purchased anonymously and donated to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix, Arizona (of which Waddell was a member).

The absence of a public memorial in Birmingham for the "four little girls" who died in the attack on the church was noted many times. Geraldine Watts Bell issued a public call for one in the Fall 1982 issue of Chris McNair's "Down Home" magazine. Interviewed a year later, on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, McNair himself said he hoped that such a memorial project would take the form of something like an endowed academic chair rather than paintings or statues. The Birmingham News initiated a fund to go toward some form of memorial that year.

In 1993, on the 30th anniversary of the bombing, 16th Street Baptist pastor Christopher Hamlin made an attempt to bring a second casting Waddell's 1964 sculpture to Birmingham. Waddell personally financed the second casting, but the project was unsuccessful. The second piece was instead purchased by the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center in Phoenix.

In 2011, on the 48th anniversary of the event, a stone marker was placed against the east wall of the church, at the site of the blast.

A group named Four Spirits, Inc., headed by Carolyn McKinstry, came together to commission the present statue. Members of the group included Chris Isom, Melodie Echols, Martha Bozeman, Doug Jones, Kimberly Brock, Yvonne Kennedy, Drew Langloh, Mark Kelly and Rick Journey. MacQueen was one of six artists who responded to an advertisement in WELD for Birmingham for proposals.

The memorial, whose name was inspired by Sara Jeter Naslund's 2003 novel, consists of life-size depictions of the four girls: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair, depicted in a playful moment on a park bench. Six doves in the sculpture represent the lives of the four girls as well as two other youth who died that day in racial violence: Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson. The bench has enough space on it for visitors to interact with the sculpture.

The group raised the needed $250,000 to fund the production of the work and its installation in the park's northeast corner. MacQueen cast the work at Mussi Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, California. It was unveiled at a dedication ceremony on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the bombing on September 14, 2013. Reverend Joseph Lowery gave a keynote address in which he said "How sweet it is to see the citizens of Birmingham engage in a common effort to serve the common good." Author Sena Jeter Naslund also read from her 2003 novel, "Four Spirits (novel)" which inspired the memorial.

A 30-minute documentary produced by WIAT-TV about the creation and dedication of the sculpture, entitled, "Hope & Honor: A Tribute to Four Girls," won a Southeast regional Emmy award.


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