Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday SOL: Three poems about four girls

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.

My apologies - this post is not about teaching preschool...
in fact, it is radically different. 
Summer provides me time for reflection and creativity.

I'm daring to share some poetry that arose from my personal research and reflection about the four young black girls who were killed in a churching bombing by klansmen in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960s.

 "I am just slowly awakening to the privilege of my own life experiences.
Elissa Johnk

Until recently, I knew very little or nothing about these four young girls.

What were their names?
When did it happen?
How old were they? (How old was I?) (How old would they be now?)
What can I learn about their hopes and dreams?
Why did it happen?
How did their loved ones recover? Did they recover?

Why don't I know more?
Were they invisible to me because they are black and I am white?
Was I taught about them and I forgot?
Or was I never taught?

I don't have answers to all these questions yet, and I have many more questions the more I learn. These poems grew out of my reading/research about this horrific crime. 

Three Poems About Four Girls

The Calculated Crime*

September 15, 1963,
10:22 am,
16th street Baptist Church,
some 450 parishioners gathered,
Birmingham, Alabama.

5 days after
3 all-white schools desegregated,
Birmingham, Alabama.

21 bombings
in 8 years;
1st that killed,
Birmingham, Alabama.

4 white klansmen,
15 sticks of dynamite,
20 black children injured,
4 black girls killed,
Birmingham, Alabama.

Addie Mae Collins, 14 years old
Denise McNair, 11 years old
Carole Robertson, 14 years old
Cynthia Wesley, 14 years old
Birmingham, Alabama.

[*Note - title of this poem was inspired by a reflection by Condoleeza Rice, at the 50th anniversary of the bombing; Condoleeza Rice was 8 years old at the time of the bombing and a classmate of Denise McNair. Here are her words: 

The crime was calculated, not random. It was meant to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations, and ensure that old fears would be propelled forward into the next generation.” ]



strewn about,

brightly painted children’s furniture,
bibles and song books ,
rear wall of church,
the back steps, and

all stained-glass windows,
except one,“Christ with the Little Children;”
this window was intact,
with only Jesus’ face missing.


Hopes and Dreams

Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia.
September 15, 1963,
a new school year just beginning.
Four young girls, 
imagining, dreaming, hoping, and seeking.

Desiring college and careers?
Imagining love, hope, and peace?
Four young lives abruptly ended,
Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia.

Addie Mae Collins, 14,
An avid learner,
loved to draw,
imagined herself an artist,
strong and athletic,
with a powerful softball pitch,
an entrepreneur,
sold her mom’s potholders and aprons door-to-door,
her family loved her as a peacemaker,
solving conflicts amongst her seven siblings.

Denise McNair, 11,
an only child,
with a ready smile, and
a big heart for others,
she organized fundraisers for muscular dystrophy, and
an annual neighborhood talent show,
with skits, dance routines, poetry,
she was inquisitive,
stood up for others, and
wanted to be a pediatrician.

Carole Robertson, 14,
an “A” student,
an avid reader,
with many extra-curricular activities,
ballet, clarinet in the marching band, girl scouts, choir,
loved listening to rock and roll on the radio,
wanted to teach history,
she loved to let friends practice hairstyles on her,
she was a good listener, a mediator,
thoughtful, reflective, a good friend.

Cynthia Wesley, 14,
a strong student,
excelled in math and reading,
loved music and played clarinet,
she was much loved by two families,
informally adopted and treasured as an only child to educators,
visiting her birth home on weekends as a big sister,
she shows us it takes a village,
we need one another,
we are all connected.

Four young girls,
gifts and passions,
hopes and dreams,

Who were their best friends?
What did they want to know more about?
What were their favorite books?
What did they like to do when they got home from school?
What did they think about as they went to sleep at night?
What were their worries?
How were they hoping to change the world?

Four young girls,
gifts and passions,
hopes and dreams,

Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia.


  1. Inspiring and moving. I have much to ponder now, and I'm really thankful I stopped by and read your particular slice.

  2. Thank you for this post. It is sad to think that this hatred still ensnares our American life (Charleston). The imagery of the one stained glass window will stay with me for a long time. Stay with your research and maybe consider a non-fiction children' s book. It is a subject that needs not to be forgotten.

  3. Thank you for remembering, Maureen. I was in college at the time, & remember the horror we felt. We talked through those awful days, as young people, wondering why it was happening.

  4. My heart aches and my eyes tear up as I ponder with you. There is no easy resolution as we continue to live with injustices today. But now I know their names and part of their story. They were not silenced as intended and they still speak to us through history. It is important to remember. Thank you for raising your voice for Addie Mae, Denise, Carole and Cynthia.