MIAMI — "September 15, 1963 is a day we must remember because we cannot afford to forget. The bombing of a house of worship and the murder of four innocent girls shocked and changed the nation and the world,"local activist Gene Tinnie said.
Last week Tinnie, Liberty City residents, state Rep. James Bush, Brad Brown of the Miami-Dade NAACP and other supporters gathered at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City to honor the 46th anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Four girls were killed in the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. They were: Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Cynthia Wesley, 14; and Carole Robertson, 14.
Tinnie, a member of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust and Kuumba Artists Collective of South Florida, served as the Sept. 15 event's coordinator. He told the South Florida Times that the tragedy hastened the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and is a part of black history that must be passed down throughout generations.
"Remembering that date is an occasion to renew our resolve that those lives have not been lost in vain,"Tinnie said. "It is also an opportunity to learn more about the incident and the lasting effects on the families and community. Remembering anniversaries, of tragedies and triumphs, is also a part of our traditional African knowledge systems, as these dates connect us to all that has occurred in the past, and future, at the same time of the year.”
The memorial service also gave participants an opportunity to view Spike Lee's documentary Four Little Girls, which shows real footage of the civil rights struggle in Alabama in the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan's ‘influence' over the local government and law enforcement, interviews with the victims' family and friends, the 1977 conviction of Klansman "Dynamite"Bob Chambliss for the bombing, as well as speeches delivered by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"The bombing came only eighteen days after the March on Washington and Dr. King's famous ‘I Have a Dream' speech,"Tinnie said.
Lee's film was nominated for a plethora of awards, including Emmys in five categories. It won an Image Award, Critics Choice Award and Best Director honors at the Acapulco Black Film Festival.
Tinnie told the South Florida Times that since the film did not have wide distribution throughout the United States – it was only released in Spain, Germany, Italy and Finland – he felt a responsibility to share it with his community.
"Part of the issue with this film may be that it was originally made for HBO cable network, and there may have been some restrictions as to theater distribution,"Tinnie said. "I purchased a copy of the DVD at the Gift Shop of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute when I last visited it.''
He continued: "The Kuumba Artists Collective has a long working relationship with the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, and its director, Mr. Marshall Davis. It was only appropriate to show the film at a location on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, especially the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, which is a kind of geographic centerpiece of the boulevard.”
In this upcoming fiscal year budget hearing for the Miami-Dade County Commission, the Cultural Arts Center, at 6161 NW 22nd Street, near Northwest 62nd St./Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., is in jeopardy of losing funding or being closed down permanently.
Tinnie said the center is vastly important to the Liberty City community, and is utilized as a venue to showcase black talent in the areas of Arts and Film.
"This is one of the great advantages of community film showings that do not happen in commercial theaters," Tinnie said. "Instead of just seeing the films as passive consumers, audiences get to learn more about the inside story behind them and get a chance to share their own ideas and insights afterwards."
Tinnie and other members of the Kuumba Artists Collective told audience members that the film was shown not only as a commemoration, but also to showcase the center's potential as it faces potential budget cuts and reductions of staff and services.
"Any group or individual, it would seem, could take advantage of the opportunity to show films that are culturally relevant, with the center's approval,'' Tinnie said. "Publicity was a challenge, but a regular calendar of film showings can help with that. Supporting the center is also a part of Kuumba's longtime commitment to making Dr. MLK Boulevard the 'outdoor museum,' and destination that the late Mrs. M. Athalie Range and Mr. Bernard Dyer envisioned when they launched the idea of reconstructing and renaming NW 62nd Street, even while the fires of the rebellion still smoldered following the assassination of Dr. King in 1968.''
Tinnie continued: "As a result of the [recent] screening, there have been several requests to show it in other communities. No commercial advertising is as valuable as word-of-mouth and real interest."
Liberty City community activist Ken Knight, whose Liberty City Landmarks organization coordinated with Jumbo's Restaurant on Northwest 75th Street and Seventh Avenue to provide food and refreshments for the event, used the memorial as a way to reach out to fellow community members for the historical preservation of the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.
"This center is an icon of the civil rights struggle and the county has preliminarily voted to close it down,"Knight said. "I implore you to contact your county commissioner through phone, email, text, blog or Twitter and let them know that we won't just sit back and let our history die."
Photo: Gene Tinnie