Dear Denise: Letters to the Sister I Never Knew

Dear Denise: Letters to the Sister I Never Knew

by Lisa McNair
Dear Denise: Letters to the Sister I Never Knew

Dear Denise: Letters to the Sister I Never Knew

by Lisa McNair


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817321352
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 09/13/2022
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 266,894
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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 for more information.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Letter 1 The Sister I Never Knew 7

Letter 2 Our Baby Sister 10

Letter 3 Your Death Left Much Sorrow 15

Letter 4 What a Difference a Year Makes 21

Letter 5 Our Lineage Is a Strong One 25

Letter 6 School Days 29

Letter 7 Have Mamma and Daddy Gone Crazy ? 35

Letter 8 Not So Bad 39

Letter 9 Church Life 45

Letter 10 Thinking White 50

Letter 11 High School Was Painful 55

Letter 12 Buried Pain Will Come Up Again 63

Letter 13 More Messed-Up Thinking 66

Letter 14 The Year of the Debutante 70

Letter 15 Bama 76

Letter 16 Suicidal Thoughts 82

Letter 17 The Family Business 87

Letter 18 The Trials 91

Letter 19 4 Little Girls 94

Letter 20 Justice 100

Letter 21 Tracey 105

Letter 22 Reconciliation 109

Letter 23 Church Can Be a Painful Place 114

Letter 24 White Church 118

Letter 25 Unlucky at Love 124

Letter 26 I Was the Wrong Color 133

Letter 27 Getting Along 136

Letter 28 What Does It Mean to Be Called a White Girl? 140

Letter 29 Serving All the People 146

Letter 30 Daddy's Dilemma 150

Letter 31 Dogs Have Always Been My Closest Friends 157

Letter 32 Crazy Stuff People Say 160

Letter 33 Glory 163

Letter 34 9/11 166

Letter 35 Racial Issues 168

Letter 36 Our Black Heritage 170

Letter 37 We Aren't So Different 174

Letter 38 Daddy Is with You Now 176

Letter 39 Comfortable in My Own Skin 182

Letter 40 So Long for Now 186

The 4 Little Girls Memorial Fund 191

The Morgan Project 192

Sojourn into the Past 193

Index 195

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