1963 Birmingham Bombing Survivor to Share Her Story at SMU
Junie Williams, who survived a church bombing that killed her sister, speaks here Thursday as part of Black History Month.
Her story of survival — and the civil rights-struggle lessons she believes are important for today’s younger generations to understand — will be front and center during “Journey to Peace: An Eyewitness Account of the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing” on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. in SMU’s McCord Auditorium. The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program in collaboration with SMU’s Association of Black Students. Williams’ visit is part of SMU's observance of Black History Month.
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 race and other 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.”
In talking about those who have committed hate crimes, Williams deeply believes that “forgiveness comes from the heart,” she says. “People who do those things must have fears, problems within themselves, and lack of understanding.”
Read more about that fateful day in Williams’ life, by visiting useekufind.com/peace/eyewitness.htm. And for more details about SMU’s human rights initiatives, visit smu.edu/humanrights or call 214-768-8347.