Lonnie Holley: The Fifth Child Burning

Lonnie Holley connects the fate of a little girl killed in a house fire with that of four Black girls killed in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.


On the morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, over a dozen sticks of dynamite planted by members of the Ku Klux Klan exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Killed in the blast were four Black girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14) Carol Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Rosamond Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Dionne Wesley (age 14).

Klan Bombing of Birmingham Church 1963, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art
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In The Fifth Child Burning, Lonnie Holley relates the death of the four girls in the church bombing to that of a little girl in a housefire years later.

The Fifth Child Burning (1994) by Lonnie HolleyOriginal Source: Baltimore Museum of Art, Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

The Fifth Child Burning, 1994

"A little girl in Birmingham burned to death in her own house. She was a classmate of A.J., my son. These things in this artwork all came out of her burned-down house. Her parents was not home. They had given her luxuries but not their own time."

The work consists of numerous household items, including a television and VCR

a lamp, chair, and toaster

window blinds

a boom box

a bookbag and clothing

and roller skates.

"Four little girls died in the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963. They was the victims of racism. The 'fifth' child burned from a kind of family neglect. We got to look past racism sometimes and find the blame within ourself." 

Lonnie Holley (2018) by Timothy DuffySouls Grown Deep

Lonnie Holley

Sculptor and musician Lonnie Holley was born in Birmingham, AL in 1950. His work is in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. www.lonnieholley.com

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