I thought Spike Lee’s use of the folk song “Birmingham Sunday” by Joan Baez in the opening of the 4 Little Girls documentary was perfect as the song, juxtaposed with the images of four girls that the song was about, perfectly places the viewer into the time period and gives an immediate overview of what happened on that fateful day at 16th Street Baptist Church.
More so than that, I thought Lee’s ability to recall the song later in the film, when it is revealed that Bill Baxley listened to Baez’s song “almost every morning of his life until [he] became attorney general” (1:27:02) was emotionally provoking. This sequence is a great character reference for Baxley. By playing the song again during this interview, one immediately recalls the sadness they felt upon hearing the song at the beginning of the film and immediately feel a connection with Baxley, knowing that he feels the same way about the song. This allows us to empathize with him and know that he is seeking the same justice that we want for the men responsible for the bombing.
Looking through Baxley’s wikipedia page, I can’t help but add this fun fact to my post on him. When he decided to take on the case of church bombing, the Ku Klux Klan threatened his life in a letter. Baxley immediately responded with the following message: