This is the book cover for the 1990 out-of-print book that I self-published under my former married name: Debbie Rauch. My illustrator was Dusty Araujo.
This story is a piece of historical fiction. The friend of Denise exists only in the author’s imagination. My purpose in writing this story is to promote discussions among school children of an actual event of history. I hope that they will begin to become aware of what type of atrocities was committed not that long ago. The young children of today are condemned to repeat history if they cannot learn from it. This story is written in graphic style to force the listeners and readers to think and become more aware.
Introduction: When I was in 5th grade, in 1969, one of my school friends died on the last day of school. She was hit by a car and died instantly. It was my first real experience with death. My friends and I were very upset and confused!
Six years earlier, in 1963, one fifth-grade girl and three eighth-grade girls died in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. They were killed by a bomb! Read what happened from the perspective of Denise’s best friend in this historical fiction tale.
My best friend died yesterday. It is still so hard for me to get over the shock. Her name was Denise. She is—was—eleven. We had just started the fifth grade together.
Today is Monday, September 16, 1963. School is closed in Birmingham; or rather, all the black schools are closed so that we can attend the funerals.
You see, Denise wasn’t the only one who died yesterday. Cynthia, Carol, and Addie Mae also died. Those three girls were fourteen years old and were in the eighth grade.
Rev. Martin Luther King is coming back to Birmingham to preside over the funerals of Denise and two of the older girls.
I guess you’re wondering how they died. The newspaper headline stated: “Black Church Bombed! Four Girls Killed!” The church that was bombed was our church, the Birmingham Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. That was the church that Dr. Martin Luther King used as his headquarters when he was here last. We were so proud - Proud of him and proud of our church!
Cynthia, Carol, and Addie Mae had been singing in the choir for some time. Today was to be Denise’s first time to sing with them. She was so excited and proud to be chosen. She has—had—a beautiful voice.
The four girls were in the back of the church putting on their choir robes when the bomb exploded. The rest of us were sitting in the pews or standing in the aisles. We all ran out screaming and crying. One girl was blinded. She was twelve years old. But we thought nobody else was hurt. We all stood there staring at our church in shock. There were big gaping holes torn out of it.
I kept waiting for Denise to come running from the back of the church. She didn’t come. So finally I started to wander to the back of the church, but two men stopped me. They wouldn’t let me go back there, but they did tell me that Denise and those three bigger girls were dead.
Dead! How can my best friend be dead?
That happened just yesterday! It feels like a hundred years has passed between Sunday, September 15th and today, Monday, September 16th.
Lots of blacks were real angry. Some of them said that it was time for us to arm ourselves with guns. But Denise’s father, Mr. McNair said, “I’m not for that. What good would Denise have done with a machine gun in her hands?”
Dr. King presided over their funeral. He said a lot of things that made me feel a little better. I wrote his words down so that I won’t ever forget them. I want to be able to read these words over when I can’t sleep at nights wondering why—why I had to lose my very best friend. I’ll read them to you:
“Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carol Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. Their deaths tell us to work passionately and unceasingly to make the American dream a reality. They did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. History has proved again and again that unearned suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. They did not die in vain.”
(© 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for this excerpt. Used by permission of Joan Daves from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change commonly called The King Center)
Well, that’s what happened. I just have one more thing to say. Good-bye, Denise. I miss you!
1. What happened to Denise McNair and 3 eighth-grade girls on September 15, 1963?
2. How did this church bombing and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eulogy impact both black and white people in 1963?
3. What can we learn from this sad event in history?
Please Note: In honor of Black History Month, I am sharing this story. It is 1 of 3 stories included in my self-published out-of-print book: “A Trilogy Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Stories” © 1990 by Debbie Rauch - my former married name. I dedicated this book to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the fine people who were instrumental in proving that a bad law is a law that needs to be changed. For every book that I sold, I donated fifty cents to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, GA. commonly known as the King Center.
Martin Luther King Jr Center, 450 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312; (404) 893-9882; www.thekingcenter.org
Additionally, I gave permission for this story to be included the June 2001 TN Adult ESOL Curriculum Resource Book: http://www.cls.utk.edu/pdf/esol/esol_6_2.pdf