January 30, 2008, marked the 60th anniversary of the assassination of India’s political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi. It was Gandhi whose name was most invoked by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 4, 1968, twenty years after Gandhi’s murder, King himself was assassinated on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.
1968 was a watershed year in a decade that will live in infamy. Beginning with the never-ending war in Vietnam and the assassination of the 35th President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy in November of 1963 and culminating in the assassination of both King and Robert F. Kennedy, the sixties were a decade scarred by war, assassinations, racially motivated murders, beatings, and torture.
I will never forget how I felt when I stood before the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, shortly after its dedication in 1989. Only once before had I been so deeply moved by a public memorial—when I stood in the shadow of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Both memorials, designed by the brilliant artist Maya Lin, catalog the names of those whose lives were sacrificed for the cause of freedom and both are mute testaments to man’s inhumanity to man.
In the midst of an ignominious decade, 1963 stands out as a particularly heinous year. In June, just hours after Kennedy’s nationally televised address in support of Civil Rights, the civil rights activist and field secretary for the NAACP Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi. On September 15, two weeks after the inspirational speech of Dr. King in Washington and two months before the assassination of President Kennedy, there occurred another event that shocked and horrified the world: the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bombing wounded twenty-two children and killed four little girls.
Three years ago Birmingham native Sena Jeter Naslund published the novel Four Spirits, a fictionalized story of the events leading up to and following the 16th Street Church bombing. Now Four Spirits has been adapted for the stage and will make its world premiere at the University of Alabama in Huntsville on Thursday, February 7, 2008. Sena Jeter Naslund collaborated with Montevallo professor,Dr. Elaine Hughes to produce the theatrical production. The play, directed by Shannon Graham, will run from February 7 through February 10. For further information on Four Spirits, click on the UAH theatre website or call (256) 824-6210.
--Penne J. Laubenthal