Friday, February 15, 2013

James Baldwin and the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

The 16th Street Baptist Church sits in the middle of downtown Birmingham, Alabama. During the heart of the Civil Rights movement, when Birmingham was known across the nation as “Bombingham,” marchers and protesters would assemble at the 16th Street Baptist Church, then walk across the street to Kelly Ingram Park, where they demonstrated against segregated public facilities and the exclusion of black men and women from local businesses. The church served as organizational headquarters for political protests in the city and a symbol of the movement for justice and equality. It also became a target of whites in Birmingham who resisted such efforts.
The story of the 16th Street Baptist Church is among the most infamous of the Civil Rights movement. In September 1963, Birmingham faced a federal court order to admit the first black students to three different public schools. It was a tense and hostile time. Sunday, September 15, was Youth Day at the church, when children planned and led morning worship. Four young black girls left their Sunday school class to head downstairs to the basement to prepare for their role in the service. At 10:22am there was a sound like thunder, and the whole building trembled. A bomber had tunneled under the church basement and placed 19 sticks of dynamite under what turned out to be the girls’ restroom. The bomb detonated, and the rear wall of the church crumbled. Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson all died under the collapsed building. Denise was 11 years old. Addie Mae, Cynthia, and Carole were 14.
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