Today marks 57 years that 11-year-old Denise McNair, and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were killed by Klansmen, Robert Chambliss, known as Dynamite Bob, Bobby Frank Cherry, and Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr.
Birmingham, AL was nicknamed "Bombingham." It's estimated that there were over 50 bombings in Birmingham from the 1940s-1960s. The bombings were to rebel against African Americans who were attempting to move into the white neighborhood. Center Street was known as Dynamite Hill and the color line for blacks and white. The whites lived on the west side of Center Street. Unafraid, black families moved into the white neighborhood. They endured the KKK shootings, burning, and bombing their homes.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was built in 1911. The church had served as the headquarters of rallies and civil rights mass meetings during Jim Crow.
On September 15th, the four little girls and Sarah Collins Rudolph were at the 16th Street Baptist Church in the bathroom. It was Youth Day and the girls were happy and excited about their upcoming school year. Carolyn Maull McKinstry, the Sunday School church secretary answered the phone in the church office, and a caller said "three minutes" and hung up. McKinstry, a teenager, didn't know what the phone call meant. At 10:22 a.m. as she was walking into the sanctuary after hanging up the phone, the bomb exploded. Between 15-20 sticks of dynamite injured several church members, damaged the church, and destroyed cars.
(Bathroom window where the four little girls were when they were murdered).
The killing of the four little girls drew national and international attention to the racism and segregation in Birmingham.
I visit Birmingham every year. I make it a point to visit and pay respect to the young girls that lost their lives to hate.
Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and Carole Robertson are buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Denise McNair is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eulogized Wesley, Collins, and McNair's funeral at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.
Rev. John H. Cross Jr. eulogized Robertson's funeral at St. John A.M.E. Church.
Come 'round by my side and I'll sing you a song I'll sing it so softly it'll do no one wrong On Birmingham Sunday the blood ran like wine And the choir kept singing of freedom
That cold autumn morning no eyes saw the sun And Addie Mae Collins, her number was one In an old Baptist church there was no need to run And the choir kept singing of freedom
Addie Mae Collins liked hopscotch, sang in the choir, and loved softball.
The clouds, they were dark and the autumn wind blew And Denise McNair brought the number to two The falcon of death was a creature they knew And the choir kept singing of freedom
Denise McNair liked to play with her dolls, left a mudpie in a mailbox, and did a neighborhood fundraiser for muscular dystrophy. Denise's childhood friend was U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. They would play with their dolls together.
The church, it was crowded and no one could see That Cynthia Wesley's dark number was three Her prayers and her feelings would shame you and me And the choir kept singing of freedom
Cynthia Wesley was adopted at the age of six to Claude and Gertrude Wesley. Her father was able to identify her body by the rings she and her mother exchanged.
Young Carole Robertson entered the door And the number her killers had given was four She asked for a blessing, but asked for no more And the choir kept singing of freedom
Carole Robertson loved to dance, an A+ student, was girl scout, and a member of Jack and Jill. The organization celebrates Carole Robertson's life every September called Carole Robertson Day of Service.
Carole played the clarinet and was suppose to perform in a recital the following day. When Carole was murdered her bible was in her pocket.
On Birmingham Sunday a noise shook the ground And people all over the Earth turned around For no one recalled a more cowardly sound And the choir kept singing of freedom The men in the forest, they once asked of me How many black berries grow in the Blue Sea I asked them right back with a tear in my eye How many dark ships in the forest? The Sunday has come, the Sunday has gone And I can't do much more than to sing you a song I'll sing it so softly it'll do no one wrong And the choir keeps singing of freedom
Written by Joan Baez
Sarah Collins Rudolph, the fifth little has been left out of history. She was the younger sister of Addie Mae Collins who survived the bombing.
Rudolph was treated for 22 shards of glass that was lodged in her face and lost her right eye. While she was in the hospital, a Life magazine photographer took the picture of Rudolph in the hospital with gauze pads in her eye without her consent. That was disrespectful and cruel.
There is a Gofundme for Mrs. Rudolph. She has suffered from PTSD for years after the bombing and never received counseling for the trauma she endured. Click here to support https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-bombing-victim-sarah-collins-rudolph
KKK, Robert Chambliss known as "Dynamite Bob" was responsible for the murders of the four little girls. It took more than a decade for justice to be served.
Chambliss's niece, Elizabeth Cobb, testified against him. He was convicted of first-degree murder on November 15, 1977, the day of Denise McNair's birthday, and sentenced to life in prison. He died on October 29, 1985, in jail.
Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton, Jr. were also involved in the murder of the four little girls.
Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry made it no secret of his hatred of black people. He was found guilty in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison. He died on November 18, 2004.
Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr. was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. He was denied parole in 2016 and his next parole hearing was scheduled in 2021. He died on June 26, 2020.
On the same day of the bombing, two young boys were murdered. Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson were killed due to racial violence.
Robinson and a group of boys were near a gas station around 3 pm. A carload of young white people was taunting Robinson and his friends. Some of Robinson's friends threw rocks at the white teenagers. When the police arrived. Robinson and his friends ran. Officer Jack Parker fired a warning shot that hit Robinson in the back. He died in the hospital.
(Johnny Robinson's home used to be at this location)
Virgil Lamar Ware was shot and killed while riding on the handlebars of a bike while his brother, James, was pedaling. His killer, Larry Sims, 16 years old only served just six months in a juvenile detention center.
I wonder what would their lives have been if they were alive today. Would they have been HBCU graduates, educators, scientists, mathematicians, senators, or even President of the United States?
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
Four Spirits sculpture was dedicated in 2013 in Birmingham, AL.
That Which Might Have Been, Birmingham, 1963 sculpture in Phoenix, AZ. The sculpture was installed at Unitarian Universalist Church and received criticism because of the nudity.
The idea behind this work was to portray the girls as they could have been, as adults. To express the senseless loss of potential they could have achieved in life.
In 2013, President Barack Obama signed a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's, highest civilian honor, to the four little girls killed in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
Bas-relief plaques of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley are on the wall at City Hall in Birmingham.
To honor the lives of the four little girls, have a family movie night and watch the documentary directed by Spike Lee and have the children write a one-page report. The documentary is available on Amazon Prime.
Black History is More Than 28 Days!!!!!