Sixty years ago Friday (Sept. 15), four Ku Klux Klan members planted 19 sticks of dynamite next to a Black church in Birmingham, Alabama. Inside 16th Street Baptist Church, people gathered for Sunday worship. Then an apocalypse came.
The blast shook the building and shouted around the neighborhood. Several cars outside were destroyed and windows were knocked out of buildings more than two blocks away. And it blew a seven-foot hole in the church’s wall. On the other side of that wall, the blast killed four Black girls, aged 11-14: Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Rosamond Robertson, and Cynthia Dionne Wesley. More than a dozen other people were injured, including Addie Mae’s younger sister Sarah Collins, who was left blind in one eye.
“They died between the sacred walls of the church of God, and they were discussing the eternal meaning of love,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared a few days later at a funeral for three of the girls just three weeks after he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington.
The rest of this piece is only available to paid subscribers of the Word&Way e-newsletter A Public Witness. Subscribe today to read this essay and all previous issues, and receive future ones in your inbox.