By Leslye Joy Allen Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate
Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.
Back in August of 2013, I spoke with my friend Erich McMillan-McCall whose theatre organization Project1Voice was preparing to do a live streaming of a staged reading of the Christina Ham play “Four Little Girls” from the Kennedy Center. September 15, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of that tragic day in 1963 when a bomb planted by White racist terrorists killed four young Black girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. One of them was a young girl recorded in most articles, essays, and books as “Cynthia Wesley.” Yet, she was born Cynthia Diane Morris.
After recognizing Cynthia’s academic talents, Cynthia’s mother, Mrs. Estelle Morris, allowed her young daughter to live with a childless and affluent Black couple named Claude and Gertrude Wesley in order to give her daughter access to a better school and, perhaps, a more financially stable future. The Wesley family was well-known throughout Birmingham’s Black community for their generosity, warmth, and a deep love of children. Yet, the generous and kind-hearted Wesley family, who could not have biological children, never legally adopted Cynthia. For more information about this, please revisit my previous blog titled “Thoughts on the Eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing.” This blog discussed the wonderful tradition in Black communities where people took in and cared for children when they needed assistance. This particular blog also contains a hyperlink to a copy of Cynthia Diane Morris’ amended death record.
Cynthia’s brother Fate Morris wants to set the historical record straight. The commemorative statues and the U. S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor awarded in May 2013 posthumously to the four girls who lost their lives in that church bombing all read with the names: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley. Federal, state and city officials in Birmingham and elsewhere have tepidly acknowledged Fate Morris as Cynthia Morris’ brother, yet they have done so with little regard for his feelings about how her name appears in public records. I need not pontificate about this matter. However, if you will take the time to review my previous blogs from late August to September 2013 you will know that this is a sensitive subject. I also encourage you to listen (when you have time to sit at length) to the lengthy Blog Talk conversation I had with host Preston Washington on Lesley Gist’s Radio Show “Gist of Freedom” program back in September. Once you hear our long conversation, along with the testimony of Fate Morris, you will know why getting the historical record straight is important. (“Related Material – a Blog Talk Radio Interview and an important new CNN article 9-14-2013”)
The state of Alabama amended his sister’s death records to reflect her real birth name. Yet, there seems to be a genuine reluctance in some quarters to even acknowledge Mr. Fate Morris and other members of his family as the family members of Cynthia Diane Morris (aka Cynthia Wesley). Fate Morris was a young boy when he lost his sister. His present mission does not appear to be an attempt to deny what the Wesley family did for his sister or how much they loved her, but rather to get some peace by making sure that historians, scholars, journalists and the general public know his late sister’s real birth name. What he needs most is closure and a genuine acknowledgement of his feelings and those of his family members. Yet, it is hard to get closure or peace when the written records barely acknowledge that Cynthia Morris was your sister.
So, please take a moment to read and sign Mr. Fate Morris’ petition at the hyperlink below: Cynthia Morris – NOT Cynthia Wesley – Issue Proclamation.