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In memory of four beautiful spirits

By Kay S. Pedrotti The words ‘Never Forget’ have been used because of many hateful events, the Holocaust and the 9/11 attack being among the most notable. I have my own dark day that will not be forgotten; though the day was too horrible to contemplate, its tragedy brought a certain enduring light into my life. That day was Sept. 15, 1963. Next year it will be 50 years since the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., when four young girls were killed and many injured during the Sunday school hour. Three of the girls ‘“ Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley ‘“ were 14 years old. Denise McNair was 11. I remember being stunned and disbelieving when I heard the news. My thoughts ran along the lines: ‘What? Children were killed? I thought nobody was being hurt by ‘˜our side,’ the objectors to civil rights. There must be some other reason.’ But I couldn’t wish it away. I had to face the awful truth that yes, a group of KKK members had indeed placed a bomb in the church basement, not knowing who it would kill but only that whoever it was would be black. My own sister Vicki was 14 years old that year. Suddenly I could relate more than ever before to the struggle of African-American people for equality and an end to prejudice, bigotry and hatred. From that day, my life began to change. It took a while, but by the fall of 1964, Kay Smith was a different person. I know that divine intervention played a big part ‘“ there were no other influences in my life to change my thinking. My family, my friends, my bosses, were all solidly against any change in ‘our Southern way of life.’ It seemed God was about to make a place for me to be a real person, one who could think for herself and learn to understand folks who were different. Those who know me now cannot quite believe I was once the hateful little pinhead I had been. I’m eternally grateful that I’m not that person anymore. Many people helped me along the way; there were friends, pastors, the Lutheran church itself as an example. My family at first referred to me as ‘the crazy liberal.’ They never stopped loving me anyhow, and eventually most of them realized what I felt and said made sense. ’You’re not a liberal,’ my late aunt Betty said. ’You’re just a Christian concerned with humanity.’ Those words serve to keep me thinking about what I’m doing and believing the best way to love people is to understand them from their point of view ‘“ not mine. As a reporter I’m taught to be objective and to see all sides of an issue or problem. That’s hard sometimes; if I know a person seeking office will not be good for us, I want to say that in the paper ‘“ but it’s not objective. If you know me you know I do not waver in my support of a country, this country, that recognizes the innate worth and rights of all its citizenry, regardless of race or any other kind of classifi cation. So on every Sept. 15, I will quietly honor Addie Mae, Cynthia, Denise and Carole and their impact on my life ‘“ because I will ‘Never Forget.’

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