Poignant, honest, and heartfelt letters to a sister who perished in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing
Lisa McNair was born in 1964, one year after her older sister, Denise, was murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Dear Denise is a collection of forty letters from Lisa addressed to the sister she never knew, but in whose shadow of sacrifice and lost youth she was raised. These letters offer an intimate look into the life of a family touched by one of the most heinous tragedies of the Civil Rights Movement.
Written in a genuine, accessible, familiar, and easy-to-read voice, Lisa’s letters apprise her late sister of all that has come to pass in the years since her death. Lisa considers her own challenges and accomplishments as a student in remarkably different—and very racially complex—schools; the birth of their baby sister, Kim; their father’s election to the Alabama legislature; her evolving sense of faith and place, and sometimes lack thereof, within the Black church; her college experiences; and her own sense of self as she’s matured into adulthood. She reveals some of the family’s difficulties and health challenges, and shares some of their joys and celebrations.
The letters are accompanied by 29 black-and-white photographs, most of them from the McNair family collection, many of them taken by her father, a professional photographer who documented the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama both before and after Denise’s murder. An unswervingly candid, gentle, and nuanced book, Dear Denise is a testament to one singular life lived bravely and truthfully (if sometimes confusedly or awkwardly), during decades of bewildering social change and in the shadow of one life never fully lived.
Lisa McNair is a Birmingham native and the oldest living sister of Denise McNair, one of the four girls killed in the infamous 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Lisa is a renowned national public speaker on the topic of racial reconciliation and also leads antiracism workshops. Visit www.speaklisa.com for more information.
“Lisa bares her heart and soul about growing up with love and admiration in the light, not the shadow, of her sister Denise, whose young life was taken from her family by hate through the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. What an extraordinary expression of love and developmental bond to a sister who she never had the pleasure of meeting. She speaks truth to power, bridging the past and present and exploring her inner strength to combat racism from all members of society.” —Reena Evers-Everette, executive director of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute
“In Dear Denise, Lisa McNair takes the reader on a journey that at some point in our lives we all wish we could have: a conversation with a family member we never knew. In writing her letters to a sister who died in what should have been a safe place—her church—at the hands of white supremacists, Lisa in actuality has a conversation with Denise, walking the reader through the history of Birmingham and America, and her family, while continuing to seek the truths about our past and the direction for our future. It is conversations like these that will help us form that more perfect union we know as America.” —Senator Doug Jones, author of Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights
“In 1997 I Directed My 1st Documentary 4 Little Girls. It Tells The Story Of The Beautiful Young Black Girls Who Were Murdered In A Domestic Terrorist Bombing Of The 16th Street Baptist Church In Birmingham, Alabama. During And After The Production I Became Friends With The Parents Of Denise McNair. One Of The 4 Little Girls That Was Murdered. Through My Friendship With Maxine And Chris McNair, I Met Lisa McNair The Younger Sister Of Denise. This Book Is The Riveting Story Of Her Life, Her Parents And Sister During The Volatile Of The Jim Crow South, And The Capital Of That BOMB-MING-HAM. Lisa Takes Us On A Stirring Trip Of Stirring Moments Of HIS/HERSTORY In These Un-United States.” —Spike Lee
“Lisa McNair’s letters to her sister come from her heart. They are about growing up not having met Denise, who was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Denise and three other young girls were taken in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, a sacred space, in a dynamite explosion set by the hands of local white Alabama terrorists. Lisa tells her story of searching for meaning in America, which has a history drenched in the blood of white supremacy over 400 years and continuing to this day. Lisa McNair’s book is a must read for all Americans.” —David Goodman, the Andrew Goodman Foundation