Imagine Sunday morning, little girls and mothers in their Sunday best, with hats, bows, and lace. Then fathers and little boys in crisp suits, button-down shirts, and ties. The church is buzzing with talk before the 11am service begins.
It’s Sunday, September 15, 1963. Five girls from the congregation went to the basement to use the restroom. They were probably fixing their hair and talking about the start of the new school year.
Before the church began, before hymns and before the pastor’s sermon and the Benediction, before 11 in the morning, a bomb went off in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Many people were injured. Four young girls lost their lives.
Addie Mae Collins was 14 years old. Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair were 11 years old. Addie’s sister, Susan was there. She survived but was permanently blinded.
Imagine the amount of rubble that had to be removed to find these little girls in the basement. Four sets of parents, four families lost a child.
Yesterday, September 15, marked the 57th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.
After the federal court mandated integration of Alabama’s school system, there were eleven days of bombing. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was on the third day.
Because a certain community in Birmingham did not want little Black children in their school system, this church was bombed. Their course of action was not to protest, rally, or boycott, instead they chose violence.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was not only for church services and Sunday School, this was church that offered a meeting place for civil rights organizers. Many people called it the “headquarters” for civil rights meetings and rallies.
This church was important to the Black community. It was purposely bombed.
Alabama in the 1960s was tumultuous and violent. “Bull” Connor was Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety for more than two decades. He used his political power to enforce hatred. He enforced violence on a community he had the task to keep safe.
Birmingham was deemed “the most segregated place in the United States.” Birmingham soon earned the nickname “Bombingham” because of the violence and amount of bombings the Black community was forced to endure.
No matter how difficult or uncomfortable the truth may be, we must learn it and share it with the hopes of exposing history’s wrongs and, hopefully, righting them in some type of way.
Yes, the story of the 16th Street Baptist Church is told, but we need to take time to truly learn the story and learn from it. An entire Church on the day of worship was bombed. Justice for the killing of the four little girls was delayed, almost denied even; perpetrators were sentence in 2002, about 39 years later.
There are many lessons to be learned… I could go on and on and on.
People chose to bomb a Church where little children and elderly were known attend. It was not a Tuesday or Friday when the bomb went off.
It was a SUNDAY! When the most amount of people are known to be in the church. All because this community did want to integrate or share. They saw integration as a threat to their current lifestyle.
They saw little children as a threat.