Adrian’s wife writes fictional book about 1963 Birmingham church bombing

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ADRIAN – Adrian resident Cindi Gray wrote a book of historical fiction about the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four girls.

The book receives good reviews on Amazon and is on the shelves and in inventory of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute bookstore.

“Locust in the Sandbox” is the story of Josie Bee Johnson, who goes to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sunday, September 15, 1963. Before she arrives, however, “locusts” attack. A bomb placed by the Ku Klux Klan explodes in the basement of the church, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson. Tragically taking place during one of the most difficult times in the civil rights movement, the girls’ brutal deaths fueled the civil rights struggle with intense energy and momentum.

In the meantime, Josie Johnson’s heart breaks as she is overwhelmed with mistrust and anger. She questions her family, her church, her faith and her God. Eventually, with the help of a group of caring women from the church, Josie searches for a way to honor and remember her slain friends. Josie must also do her best to protect her own heart and not give in to the desire for revenge.

Gray wrote the book in her head since she was a young girl in Fort Wayne, Indiana, after realizing the tragedy that fateful day in 1963. Listening to Walter Cronkite on the news, she immediately identified at age 11. McNair because of his age. Two and a half years later, she began to learn the details of black history, especially in the Deep South, at a time when teachers were not teaching black history.

Cyndi Gray's historical fiction book about the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four girls is titled

She was also terribly influenced and impacted by her American history teacher, a black woman from the south and the first to teach in the Fort Wayne school system.

The story and the deaths of the four girls followed Gray throughout her life. After the birth of her children, she began to process the tragic event as a parent and not as a child. She said she could not understand what the parents of these young girls had to go through over the years, with no end, no justice or closure in sight. And she couldn’t begin to imagine the willful loss of her babies to willful evil and unleashed hatred based on racism.

“Locust in the Sandbox” came out about 10 months ago, but Gray postponed the book’s release due to cancellations and COVID-19 restrictions.

A book signing and lecture are scheduled for Thursday, November 17 at the Rueckert Auditorium in Dominican Hall on the University of Siena Heights campus. The author’s dedication takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and the conference from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Gray suggests anyone interested check out the “Unraveling Racism: Seeing White” art exhibit at the Inai Gallery of the Dominican Sisters Adrian Weber Retreat and Conference Center. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. or by appointment at 517-266-4090.

Currently working on the sequel to “Locust in the Sandbox,” Gray plans to incorporate first-hand accounts from individuals and family members who lived through the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963.

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