This year marks the 50th anniversary of the brutal 1963 bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Four little girls – Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair and Addie Mae Collins lost their lives that day at the hands of the KKK. This week, bipartisan lawmakers have announced the pursuit of the Congressional Medal of Honor for the victims.
Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were dressed in their “Youth Sunday” best, ready to lead the 11:00 adult service at the church, which since its construction in 1911 had served as the center of life for Birmingham’s African American community. Only a few minutes before the explosion, they had been together in the basement women’s room, excitedly talking about their first days at school. The bombing came without warning.
Following the tragic event, white strangers visited the grieving families to express their sorrow. At the funeral for three of the girls (one family preferred a separate, private funeral), Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about life being “as hard as crucible steel.” More than 8,000 mourners, including 800 clergymen of both races, attended the service. No city officials braved the crowds to attend.
News stories circulated about symbolic incidents that occurred at the time of the bombing. For example, the image of Jesus’ face was knocked cleanly out of the only surviving stained-glass window in the church’s east wall, and the church clock stopped at exactly 10:22 a.m.