Sunday, September 15, 2013

Church Bombing 50 Years ago Today

In memory of 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and 11-year-old Denise McNair, who died 50 years ago today, at 10:22 am, Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, when a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
The bombing came at a time of upheaval, after months of civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham that spring, after the assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi that June and the March on Washington, at the time the largest mass demonstration in the country’s history, just weeks before.

The 16th Street Baptist Church was the largest black church in the city, the place where training sessions were held for the young people who faced sheriff’s hoses and dogs as they protested segregation in the months before the bombing. A total of 19 sticks of dynamite tore a hole in the rear wall of the church, killing the four girls, maiming another, and injuring 20 other people. The Chicago Defender noted that the victims were taken to the hospital and morgue in segregated ambulances.

Suspects were identified almost immediately but witnesses were reluctant to talk. The only arrest made at the time was of Robert Chambliss for possessing a box of dynamite without a permit, which carried a $100 fine and six months of jail time. It was not until 1977 that Chambliss, then 73, was again tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2000, two others were arrested and later tried and convicted in the bombing.

The tragedy drew international attention to the fight for human rights of African-Americans in this country and helped hasten the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which opened doors for people of all creeds and nationalities, for women and the disabled to fully participate in the democracy. It inspired works by Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Langston Hughes, the novel “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison, and the 1997 documentary, “4 Little Girls” by Spike Lee.
At the time bomb exploded 50 years ago today, the children were preparing for that morning’s sermon. The title was, “The Love That Forgives.”
-- The Warmth of Other Suns

On the challenges to bringing justice in the case:,0,4334585.story
Commentary in Time Magazine:,9171,2151804,00.html?pcd=pw-edit
Powerful, must-read piece in The Atlantic on what happened to a Birmingham lawyer who spoke up about the complicity of the good in the presence of injustice:
A video of WNYW-TV interviews with Spike Lee and the parents of two of the girls when Lee’s 1997 film opened:

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