Tree of Remembrance: Birmingham Groups Gather to Plant Anne Frank Tree

Several Birmingham organizations will join together this month to dedicate a horse chestnut tree, similar to the one that inspired Anne Frank during her years of hiding during the Holocaust, at one of Birmingham’s “sacred spots” for civil rights.

The original tree in Amsterdam narrowly escaped being cut down two years ago. An aggressive fungus has taken hold, and almost half of the wood is rotten. The tree’s structure has been stabilized, and it could stand for another five to 15 years.

Last year, the Anne Frank Center USA announced that it was distributing 11 saplings from the tree to sites across the United States, and applications were being accepted for places that wanted them.

A group of Birmingham organizations, citing the city’s history as a civil rights era battleground, applied for one sapling to be placed in Kelly Ingram Park, which is now called “a place of revolution and reconciliation.” When it was announced that Birmingham would not be one of the sites selected, organizers decided to press on with a similar tree at the same site.

The dedication, “Roots of Courage; Branches of Hope” will be held on April 11 at 1 p.m. at the park. The community is invited.

Max Herzel, a local Holocaust survivor, and Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, will both speak. There will also be the announcement of the winner of a “Roots of Courage, Branches of Hope” poetry contest for Jefferson County eighth graders.

The event is being sponsored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham Public Library, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Birmingham Holocaust Education Committee, all of whom were part of the original proposal last summer.

James Horton, director of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, oversaw site selection and is caring for the tree before planting.

Joel Rotenstreich, former JCRC chairman who formed the project committee last summer, said there are several varieties of horse chestnut trees. “We have been careful to locate and buy the specific Aesculus Hippocastanum variety that was outside Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam.”

He said one crucial step was the support of Melvin Miller and the members of the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board, for approving the placement of the tree and plaque in the park.

Though Birmingham was not selected for a sapling from the Amsterdam tree, another Southern civil rights site was.

Two of the trees will be in Arkansas — one at Little Rock Central High, where the “Little Rock Nine” integrated schools in 1957 while 1200 soldiers kept order, and one at the Clinton Library in Little Rock.

Other sites include Boston Common, where there are other monuments to liberty; the Southern Cayuga Central School District, near where the women’s rights movement is said to have started; Holocaust centers in Seattle and Farmington Hills, Mich.; at a statue of Anne Frank in Boise, which was previously vandalized by white supremacists; and Sonoma State University in California, where an exhibit was established by one of Anne Frank’s schoolmates who is an Auschwitz survivor.

Three sites were chosen before the contest began — the White House, Ground Zero in New York City, and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, home of the “Power of Children” exhibit that honors Anne Frank.