Junie Collins Williams (pictured left) survived the infamous Alabama church bombing that killed one of her sisters and maimed another. Her story of survival – and the lessons she believes are important for younger generations – will be front and center during “Journey to Peace: An Eyewitness Account of the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing.” The event takes place Thursday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall.
The lecture is free and open to the public and is sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program in collaboration with SMU’s Association of Black Students. Williams’ visit is part of the University’s observance of Black History Month.
Addie Mae Collins died with three other little girls (pictured right) in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church Sept. 15, 1963. The assault on the predominantly African American church was orchestrated by the Ku Klux Klan, who were outraged by the desegregation of Birmingham’s schools. Not only did Addie Mae perish, but Williams had to identify her body. Another sister, Sarah Jean Collins, lost an eye in the attack.
The last remaining terrorists responsible for the bombing were prosecuted in 2001, but Williams struggled with feelings of hatred for decades. She leaned on the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King to help accept a nonviolent stance. She also leaned on her family’s powerful belief in God – instilled in her at an early age – to help embrace forgiveness as an important guiding principle in life.
“I could have let this situation get the best of me, but through God’s work in me, I pushed my way through until what seemed to be a burden around my head was pushed off,” she says. “God took a day that was meant for evil and turned it around for the good of all.”
According to SMU Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin, hate crimes such as last year’s church burnings in east Texas have risen 8 percent since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. That number continues to jump 4 percent each year, he says.
It’s obvious that America’s struggle with accepting human rights is not over, Halperin adds. “That’s the real message of (Williams’) visit. This country is nowhere near the fully accepting nation that it could become. It’s better, but better doesn’t mean sufficient.”
Williams, who recently moved to San Antonio, believes there is hope for healing in America: “I know, because I have been healed.”
Written by Denise Gee
> Read more from SMU News
> Find a complete schedule for SMU’s Black History Month 2011
> Visit SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program online
> Learn more about SMU diversity programs from Student Activities & Multicultural Student Affairs (SAMSA)