Temple Beth-El is dedicating its brand new Civil Rights Historical Marker July 17 at 12:15PM

Getting the civil rights historic marker ready for installation
Getting the marker ready for installation in April 2022. (Studio 1504)

Temple Beth-El is dedicating a Civil Rights historic marker Sunday, July 17 and you’re invited. It commemorates white supremacists’ failed attempt to bomb the synagogue in 1958. Keep reading to learn more about what’s happening and why it matters, as well as details about Beth-El’s Civil Rights Experience.

What happened in 1958?

  • Birmingham News clipping about the attempted bombing
  • Screenshot 2022 07 11 at 12.02.45 PM Temple Beth-El is dedicating its brand new Civil Rights Historical Marker July 17 at 12:15PM

(Clippings from The Birmingham News)

From the last 1940s through the 1960s, Birmingham became known first locally, then around the world as “Bombingham.” During that time, 50+ bombings happened—mostly in Black neighborhoods—to halt progress toward Civil Rights. 

“The bombing attempt was on April 28, 1958, when a satchel with 54 sticks of dynamite was discovered in a now-filled window well below street level outside the social hall. The bomb failed to detonate, but had enough power to level a city block.

The attempt was part of a rash of bombings against Jewish institutions in the South that year, with The Temple in Atlanta being the best known. The Beth-El attempt was never officially solved, despite fingerprints being taken from the bomb. A couple of individuals verbally threatened a similar attempt at Temple Emanu-El a couple weeks later.”

Southern Jewish Life Magazine

The Civil Rights Historic Marker Dedication

historic marker at Temple Beth-El
Temple Beth-El’s historic marker. (Studio 1504)

Temple Beth-El invites the community to join them as they recall the attack, reflect on its lessons and recommit to acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world).  

  • What: Dedication of historical marker about the Klan’s failed attempt to bomb Temple Beth-El in 1958
  • When: Sunday, July 17, 12:15PM-1PM
  • Where: Temple Beth-El Sanctuary, 2179 Highland Ave. South, Birmingham, AL 35205—most of the program will be inside, but there will be a very brief time outside
  • RSVP: Margaret Norman, 205.933.2740, mnorman@templebeth-el.net

The marker, approved by the Alabama Historical Association and installed in April 2022, is located on 21st Way. It’s part of the Beth El Civil Rights Experience, which explores Birmingham’s civil rights history through the lens of the Jewish community. 

Here’s who’s speaking at the event

Temple Beth-El historic marker
“The Attempted Bombing of Congregation Beth-El / Congregation Beth-El was founded in 1907 on Birmingham’s north side. Its leadership came from Knesseth Israel, the city’s Orthodox congregation. Beth-El was established as a modern, yet traditional congregation. Construction on this site began in 1926, with the addition of an education wing in 1952. By the 1950’s, Beth-El was Alabama’s largest Conservative Jewish congregation. / On Monday, April 28, 1958, a satchel containing 54 sticks of dynamite was placed along the eastern exterior of the synagogue’s lower floor. The bomb failed before it could detonate. Had it exploded, the bomb would have demolished the building. Part of a series of unsolved antisemitic attacks against Jewish institutions in the South in the 1950s, the attempted bombing of Beth-El came admist a plague of racial terror during Birmingham’s modern Civil Rights era. / Although Congregation Beth-El received sympathy and support from across Birmingham and beyond, the crime remained unsolved. In the bombing’s wake, reaction within the local Jewish community ranged from fear to determination to confront bigotry and intolerance amidst the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.” (Photo: Studio 1504)

“Lisa McNair’s been a real friend of the Beth-El Civil Rights Experience. We invited her to speak because we want to contextualize this moment within the larger landscape of attacks like this in the city.”

Margaret Norman, Director of Programming and Engagement, Temple Beth-El

More about the marker + the Beth-El Civil Rights Experience

What is Beth-El’s Civil Rights Experience? (McKay Allen)

Imani Hanson authored the text, then worked with a committee at Temple Beth-El for a few months to get it just right. From start to finish, the project took about two years, including getting approval from the Alabama Historical Association.

“We wanted to tell about what had happened and contextualize the event in a way that made sense and was important to us.”

Margaret Norman, Director of Programming and Engagement, Temple Beth-El

The marker falls under the larger umbrella of the Beth-El Civil Rights Experience, which is a multimedia project exploring the intersection of Birmingham’s Jewish and Civil Rights histories. 

“We are actively welcoming visiting groups right now to learn about those histories by appointment, and we are working on an exhibit and a short film. We have a small audio tour up on the TravelStorys app.”

Margaret Norman, Director of Programming and Engagement, Temple Beth-El

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Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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