The Welsh connection and Birmingham – Learning more about the iconic Wales Window at 16th Street Baptist Church.

Photo of the stained glass window donated to the 16th Street Baptist church by the people of Wales. Photo by Jon Eastwood

A special story from a new Birmingham resident, Jon Eastwood from Wales, about the 16th Street Baptist Church Wales Window.

As a Welshman who recently immigrated from Wales, to his wife’s hometown of Birmingham, it has been a personal journey learning about Alabama’s deep-rooted history, it’s delicious food, and the passion for college football.

Wales is a small independent nation of people, that has its own culture and language, and forms part of Great Britain, alongside England and Scotland. Little did I realize that there is an important and touching link between Wales and Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Statuary is part of a memorial across the street in Kelly Ingram Park.

On the morning of 15 September 1963, just after Sunday school, four young girls were killed by a bombing orchestrated by Ku Klux Klan members. Nearly two dozen others were injured.

The outrage following the murder of children at the church was not confined to the US. News of this act of terror spread globally.

The Welsh Connection

In Wales, over four thousand miles away across the Atlantic Ocean, in the small coastal village of Llansteffan, John Petts, an artist known for his engravings and stained glass, read about the tragedy in his morning newspaper. He quickly offered his services to create and install a replacement window for the 16th Street Baptist Church from the people of Wales.

Sharing his idea with David Cole, editor of The Western Mail, a front-page appeal was made to raise funds for a replacement window. Rather than have one or two wealthy individuals providing the funding, Cole called for donations to be capped to a maximum of half a crown (around 15 US Cents in today’s money), so that the window would be given by the people of Wales.

Photo by Jon Eastwood for Bham Now

Wales, a small country that could fit into Alabama six times over, put great value on independence and freedom as a nation. The newspaper campaign resulted in many thousands of Welsh locals lining up to hand over donations, many of whom were school children who had brought their pocket money to give. Within a short time, the money had been raised and the Wales Window was installed and dedicated in 1965.

The Wales Window

Wales Window
Photo of the stained glass window donated to the 16th Street Baptist church by the people of Wales. Photo by Jon Eastwood

Petts’ depiction of a black Christ is recognized throughout the world as one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most iconic pieces of art and stands at the front of the rebuilt 16th Street Baptist Church. The right hand pushing away hatred and injustice, the left offering forgiveness. An overarching rainbow, representing diversity. Petts accompanied the image with the words “You do it to me”, based on a verse from Mathew 25:40 that spelt out the Christian message of brotherly love: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”.

Preservation

During a recent visit to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, I learnt that all the church’s stained-glass windows, including the Wales Window, are at threat from Alabama’s storms, however, we can all help to support the Church to win a Main Street America grant to install protective glass over the windows as well as other essential repairs. Read more about it here.

The competition’s winners will be decided through public voting, which is open until October 26. People can support the Birmingham project by visiting www.16thStreetBaptist.org or texting “MAINSTREET” to 52886 to vote each day of the competition.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.