The William Carey University Winters School of Music and Ministry Studies hosted two performances of “Walk With Me: The Sixteenth Street Bombing” in Smith Auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus on February 5.
“Walk With Me,” presented by the Walk With Me Foundation of Florence, Ala., is a musical narrative commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which occurred on September 15, 1963. The bombing resulted in the death of four girls and injured 22 others.
The musical is based on the book “While the World Watched” by Carolyn Maull McKinstry, a survivor of the bombing. The book and the adapted musical tell a story of God’s love and protection and feature themes of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Prior to the performance for general audiences, a special presentation of the musical was delivered to nearly 250 middle school, junior high and high school students from the Pine Belt area. Schools attending the performance included Mt. Olive Attendance Center and East Marion High, Laurel Middle, N.R. Burger Middle and Runnelstown Junior High schools.
The performances also recognized the 50th anniversary of Carey being the first college in Mississippi, and the first Baptist college in the tri-state area, to voluntarily desegregate. On March 5, 1965, the Carey Board of Trustees approved the recommendation of then-President J. Ralph Noonkester to open enrollment to all races. The first African-American students to enroll at Carey were Rowan High School graduates Vermester Jackson and Linda Williams.
Prior to the musical, Dr. Myron Noonkester, professor of history, dean of the Noonkester School of Arts and Letters and son of the former Carey president, discussed living through the difficult times of the 1960s and specifically the situation at Carey upon the integration of the school. He also discussed Civil Rights Movement-era events in the Pine Belt.
Performers in the musical included Walk With Me Foundation members and Alabama natives Karen Cantrell, piano; Eleanor McClellan, narrator; Kevin Thomas, tenor; Dr. Terrance Brown, baritone; and Dr. Tiffany Bostic-Brown, soprano.