Civil rights means many things to many people. Some understand it to be about the past while others see the struggles that we still face. This past Sunday, March 3, 2013 marked the 48th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama and every year those who remember the atrocities that occurred that day show up to walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This Sunday was a little different. This Sunday happens to fall within the 50th anniversary of the peak of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, AL. A peak that changed the course how America treats Americans and sees all as equals, as it should have been from the start of this great nations founding. This day was graced with the presence of Reverend’s Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as well as Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. The key speaker, before the crowd walked the bridge, was Vice President Joe Biden, who received the key to Selma, AL.
Before all the events started, I was making my way to the front of the crowd to achieve a stronger vantage point. It was a beautiful, sunny day, a bit on the cold side but one couldn’t ask for a better day to have an event such as this. As I was standing there waiting for the speakers to arrive I was taking pictures of the arriving crowd. I felt a tap on my shoulder and had a pleasant lady from the crowd say hi. She asked why I was here taking photos. I began to tell her that I was documenting the future of civil rights and where we have come to, this day in time. I was traveling to all the events I could to capture the experiences of so many. As we began to divulge in to the days events we found a commonality in that we both share a love for Colorado and art. As it happens, she is a sculptor and is doing a piece commemorating the lives of the four young girls who died tragically in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. Unfortunately, we were separated as the walk across the bridge began, although I was lucky enough to get the address for her website. After the days’ events, I was able to sit down and look at her work and realized that I had just met someone astonishing. I knew that I needed to talk to her again.
Elizabeth MacQueen, is a native to Birmingham, AL. She grew up in Mountain Brook which is just right outside of the city. She is an artist through and through and her love for life and art was ingrained in her from the moment she opened her eyes. She was a ballerina up until her early twenties and then focused her passion to sculpture. Elizabeth was 15 when the events in Birmingham took place and like most of the country, she was horrified by what she saw. How can we, a peace loving nation, wanting to give everyone the opportunity to be better than what we are, treat our fellow citizens in such a deplorable nature? This was a question that all of us asked our selves. We do it today when we look back on events such as these. We are better than this. We should be better than this. We are better than this but we weren’t. Ironically, Birmingham, AL was founded to provide all people with a fair shot at life especially African- Americans. How far this “Magic City” fell to over time to the events that culminated in 1963. Like many kindred spirits of the time, both black and white, when Elizabeth turned 18 she fled Birmingham because of the civil atrocities that had occurred. She became another graduate, from a long lineage of alumni, of the University of Alabama and pursued life all over the globe creating masterful works of art proudly displayed worldwide. Every so often she does find her way back to Birmingham to visit family and friends. It just so happens that about 6 months ago she did just that. While visiting, a friend showed her a contest that the city of Birmingham was holding to commission an artist to sculpt a memorandum of the four girls who died in the 1963 church bombing. She was one of seven artists who applied for the commission and the only woman of the group. After a few months of judging the artists, Elizabeth MacQueen was awarded the commission from the city. She plans to do a bronze cast sculpture that will be unveiled for the 50th anniversary of the bombing itself and will be on display in Kelly Ingram Park across the street for the 16th Street Baptist church.
It’s incredible to think that here, in 2013, a female artist can be commissioned by a city, that was considered one of the most hateful cities in the nation; a city that has struggled to find its identity again after so many hardships. Yet, we find ourselves on the cusp of a new beginning for Birmingham. With strong people like Elizabeth MacQueen contributing their talents and passions for all to amaze at, it seems that anything in this city is possible. We have come a long way from different lines to stand in and different seats to sit in. We can stand next to each other in solidarity rather than face each other from across the aisle. Birmingham, AL can show not just this community, state, or nation what it means to be forward but it can show the world what it means to push past differences and embrace the future. We can show that whether white or black, man or woman, that all things are possible and obtainable.
As I got up from my lunch with this amazing woman and artist, I realized that I have truly met someone remarkable, who has given this world a glimpse at her passion. I implore you to look at her works and see the art she has given this world and understand why she won the commission to celebrate the lives of these four young girls that became unfortunate martyrs to a movement and a generation. See the story her hands will sculpt for this great city.