In the mid-twentieth century, Birmingham, Alabama was known as the key that opened the door to the civil rights movement. For an extensive time in American history, the racial inequality created several disputes between citizens of differing cultures. There were countless amounts of racial viewpoints in the south, which led to brutality and inequality. In August of 1963, Martin Luther King’s famous speech “I Have a Dream,” spoke to many citizens throughout the historic march.
The March on Washington was a massive protest that allowed around 250,000 people to gather at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. and listen to Martin Luther King’s plea to end the racial inequality. Located in Birmingham, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was recognized as the first house of worship for African Americans. Throughout the 1960s, the church held multiple organizational meetings with many notable African American intellectuals including, W. E. B. Du Bois and Mary McLeod Bethune. (“Sixteenth Street Baptist Church” Encyclopedia of Alabama). During the mid-twentieth century, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church represented a turning point for many of the civil rights extremists. Local communities felt everyone needed equality and decided that an agreement was the only solution. The extremists negotiated an agreement with the local jurisdiction to start combining schools; the agreement resulted in a countless number of infuriated people, which led to an attack. Initially, the bombing was intended to disturb the African American extremists who hoped to cease segregation; instead, the attack caused quite the opposite. Birmingham was also the central location of the Ku Klux Klan. The influence of the Ku Klux Klan had a powerful effect on society during the mid-twentieth century.
Many African American families could not go to the library, park, or even walk to school. In some cases, many children’s books were prohibited from being sold due to racial issues. The brutality issues against the black community in Birmingham were not unusual, but the deliberate bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church took that violence to a new level. During the early twentieth century, the church was a platform for the African American society and the civil rights movement in Birmingham. The church hosted an accumulation of assemblies and became the corporate office for many segregation protests. Serving as the corporate office for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the church became the central location for racial tension and the whites’ hatred concerning the civil rights movement. The tension culminated at around 10:30 a. m. on Sunday, September 15, 1963, when the church was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was not only a gathering location for the civil rights meetings, but also a place for worship. Churches are thought of as safe havens; they are locations free of brutality and considered peaceful.
The African Americans thought of the church as a safe location; in reality, the violence occurred here. On September 15, 1963, many families’ lives changed forever. Sunday morning before worship, a bomb detonated killing the lives of four innocent girls. The members of the Ku Klux Klan killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. There were a total of at least twenty people injured from the bombing. However, imagine you knew minutes before everyone else that an explosion was about to occur. Carolyn McKinstry was a fifteen-year-old secretary who answered the phone minutes before the explosion. McKinstry said that morning was like any typical Sunday, except for the phone call she received. She stated “When I got to the office the phone was ringing and the caller on the other end of the phone said, “three minutes. ” It was a male caller, but he hung up just as quickly as he said that” (Joiner, Lottie L. “4 Little Girls: The Bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church”). McKinstry declared that the four girls had taken perhaps fifteen steps into the church when the bomb detonated. The building crumbled as people searched for their family members. It was absolute chaos. September 15, 1963 has haunted many survivors for nearly fifty-five years. However, there was one survivor who has a vivid, emotional, and distraught image of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing. Sarah Collins Rudolph was a survivor, who lost her sister in the bombing. She was twelve years old when her older sister, Addie Mae, died in the explosion. “I was standing there, just standing there bleeding,” Rudolph, at 62, recalls. “And somebody came and they just picked me up and took me out through the hole and put me in [an] ambulance” (Ott, Tanya. “Long Forgotten, 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing Survivor Speaks Out”).
Rudolph was impacted with glass, which caused her to lose sight in her right eye. She was hospitalized for months and told to put it all behind her, but it was not that easy. The investigation of the bombing took a long time. There were many people who came to work on the case, but the investigation was hard due to lack of evidence. The majority of the evidence had been destroyed with the church. Eventually, The FBI discovered that the bombers were four members of the Ku Klux Klan. The names of the members were Thoman Edwin Blanton, Jr. , Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss, and Bobby Frank Cherry. Unfortunately, the case was closed in 1968 and the men were never arrested. In 1971, William Baxley, a new attorney general in Alabama, decided to reopen the case looking for old evidence. The attorney general’s efforts helped convict the group’s leader, Robert Chambliss, who was sent to jail in 1977 (“The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing”). In 2002, Bobby Cherry had died, but Thomas Blanton and Herman Cash were both found guilty. The tragedies that occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, not only left the city distraught but left many helpless.
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was not the first bombing of a church. Between 1947 and 1965 about nineteen bombings involved places of worship or ministers’ homes. “Birmingham had earned the nickname “Bombingham” in recognition of the fifty bombings of the homes and houses of worship of black citizens that had occurred since 1947” (Thorne, T. K. p. 12). The scars the survivors received were not only ones that could be seen, but they are also mental and financial. Many people pushed for the idea of getting a foundation set up from the city to help the families and survivors. However, many survivors have been left out of many occasions that honored the tragedy at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. There are many Birmingham citizens who do not know some of the survivors’ stories. The bombing of the church not only provided everyone with a mental picture, but it also reminded everyone how tragic Birmingham once was. The church served as a foundation of the civil rights area and as a reminder to citizens to indifferent feelings. The community’s rage and disgust at the killing of four young females, in a place of worship, assisted in the support for civil rights legislation. The attack was originally meant to disturb the black community activists who had been demonstrating for weeks for an end to segregation in the city. It had the opposite effect. As stated:Because the four young girls killed were on their way to a basement assembly hall for closing prayers on a Sunday morning, the national public’s anger and revulsion at the slaughter of children at a place of worship helped build support in the John Kennedy administration for civil rights legislation (The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed). Many years after the Birmingham Church Bombing, the lives of young African American children are more endangered than ever. The murders of the African Americans in Birmingham showed the value the society placed on black lives. The remembrance of the Birmingham catastrophe helped create a new political and moral system all throughout America. This new system helps the citizens value the lives of all children, regardless of their skin color and religious origin. In the mid-twentieth century, many African Americans had trouble trusting people outside of their race due to the mistreatment they suffered.
The Jim Crow system that impacted America’s racial history has been eradicated, but many African Americans will never forget what they once went through. They have dreams they hope to fulfill, but are still living in fear due to what happened many years ago. After they lived in a traumatic event like they once did, they have every right to live in fear. The Sunday School lesson for the morning of the Birmingham church bombing was “A Love that Forgives. ” The sermon, which was never preached, was to be related to Luke 23:34: “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. ” This lesson I feel was placed that morning for a reason. Many families did lose the lives of loved ones, but the loved ones helped bring justice for all. The traumatic event that occurred that day will never be forgotten, but it helped bring justice to the stand. The African Americans did not stop fighting to end segregation, which is the opposite of what the Ku Klux Klan wanted. Instead, they fought back harder in honor of the four girls who lost their lives. As the lesson stated, “forgive them, they thought they would be hurting us, but instead, they hurt themselves. ” The Ku Klux Klan ended up only hurting themselves by helping the African Americans earn their freedom. I feel that even though the bombing was not positive, it led to the social and religious freedom of all races today.
There were many people who could not see the good that could come from this terrible tragedy. However, at the funeral for the girls, Martin Luther King Jr. offered these words of comfort to give the families a sense of peace:And so my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city (Thorne T. K. p. 247). King’s words helped move the people into the light after the death of four little girls.
Martin Luther King’s words were full of compassion and sympathy, which helped motivate the people of the nation towards the civil rights movement. King was trying to get all of the citizens to see how a traumatic event can turn into something good. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing is an event citizens all over the country will never forget. The church not only reminds the people of the dark days that once occurred, but also as a symbol of hope. However, there may be citizens who may never completely recover from the trauma, but they will work to forgive their enemies and honor the legacy of four brave little girls. Neither the light, nor the justice was perfect, but they had arrived.
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