How Who We Were came to be . . .
Shortly after I left a non-profit organization I worked for, I started mulling over the idea for a novel. I thought about my college days at Tuskegee Institute (University) and the historical changes that had come about in the south ten to fifteen years before I arrived. I thought about Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, the four girls who were in Sunday school when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed. This is how Birmingham became the setting for Who We Were.
The fact that is the 1950s in Birmingham need no preamble as to the state of the times. There is no way to create a story that takes place in the Deep South in that era without highlighting the racial climate and conditions that colored-negro-black people endured. When I started writing about a little girl growing up during that time I began to wonder about her feelings and how she coped in the midst of the racial strife in which she lived. But before I imagined her life, I thought about the life and dreams her parents like many others of that era wanted for their children, and the hope that they held on to and believed in.
Who We Were is Hope’s story, told from the perspective of a young child as she lives through segregation, struggling to understand the injustices of her people, and coming into her own as a young adult in and beyond the Deep South.
I have tried to include and honor many historical facts of that era in Birmingham, while taking creative liberty in naming and describing streets, schools, social activities, and beliefs as I deemed them to be.
Who We Were speaks to a time period when family and community meant one and the same. It speaks to a time when black people were committed to change and being in the struggle no matter how long or how inconvenient.
When I started traveling down the road of Who We Were, I did so without knowing where I was going with the story or even what it would be titled. I am grateful for whatever energy and drive kept me determined to finish the journey.
This is me as a young girl in the early 60s. I lived in the relative safety of the North, but Hope's story could have been mine, as could the real-life story of Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia.
Congressional Honors for Bombing Victims
On Tuesday, September 10, 2013, a few days short of the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham Church bombing that killed the four girls, Congress awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest civilian honor, to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.
It's hard to imagine what paths they would have taken had they lived. Perhaps one or more of them would have grown up to be extraordinary. Perhaps they would have been "regular" people, just living normal everyday lives. Their deaths however, shocked a nation, and galvanized many into action. Historians generally agree that their deaths hastened the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
And in 2013, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in a voice vote, and the House, in a rare display of bi-partisanship and unanimity, voted 420-0 to pass the bill honoring the girls.
Perhaps they were extraordinary after all.