Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger
Last week, we commemorated the individuals who were killed by terrorists on September 11, 2001—a terrible day in the history of our country. Today, I’d like to look back at an infamous day in our country’s history when four young Black girls were killed by terrorists—terrorists who were their own countrymen.
Klan Bombing of Birmingham Church 1963
From The History Channel:
Even as the inspiring words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech rang out from the Lincoln Memorial during the historic March on Washington in August of 1963, racial relations in the segregated South were marked by continued violence and inequality. On September 15, a bomb exploded before Sunday morning services at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama–a church with a predominantly black congregation that served as a meeting place for civil rights leaders. Four young girls were killed and many other people injured; outrage over the incident and the violent clash between protesters and police that followed helped draw national attention to the hard-fought, often dangerous struggle for civil rights for African Americans.
By 1965, the FBI had four serious suspects who they thought might be responsible for the church bombing—Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash, and Thomas E. Blanton, Jr. All four were members of the Ku Klux Klan. According to the FBI, witnesses were reluctant to talk and physical evidence was lacking. The FBI has said that information from their surveillances was not admissible in court at that time. No federal charges were filed against the suspected bombers in the ‘60s.
In the end, justice was served. Chambliss received life in prison in 1977 following a case led by Alabama Attorney General Robert Baxley. And eventually the fear, prejudice, and reticence that kept witnesses from coming forward began to subside. We re-opened our case in the mid-1990s, and Blanton and Cherry were indicted in May 2000. Both were convicted at trial and sentenced to life in prison. The fourth man, Herman Frank Cash, had died in 1994. (A Byte Out of History: The ’63 Baptist Church Bombing)
Excerpt from Carole Boston Weatherford’s award-winning book-length poem for children titled Birmingham, 1963:
The day I turned ten
Our church was quiet. No meetings, no marches.
Mama left me in Sunday school
With a soft kiss and coins for the offering plate.
The teacher read a psalm, told a Bible story,
And led a favorite hymn—
“Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
I could hardly wait for church service to begin—
To stand in the pulpit and sing from my heart.
I wiped my clammy palms and took a deep breath.
As I waited, four big girls giggled on their way
To the restroom. I would have tagged along
If I thought they’d include me.
The day I turned ten
Someone tucked a bundle of dynamite
Under the church steps, then lit the fuse of hate.
Joan Baez – Birmingham Sunday
Survivor: Church bombing ‘is very clear in my mind’
Let us remember the four young girls who were killed when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed on September 15, 1963:
Addie Mae Collins, 14
Carole Roberston, 14
Cynthia Wesley, 14
Denise McNair, 11
An excerpt from Sam Cornish’s poem Birmingham 1963:
They were just
in a church
You can read the rest of the poem here.
Condoleezza Rice Recalls Birmingham Bombing That Killed Childhood Friend (Huffington Post)