On this day fifty-three years ago in a little country church, in a small Georgia town, there was a wedding.
The young bride and groom met a few years prior at Savannah State University. The year before they wed, the groom spent several months overseas with the military.
Now, their day had finally come. Surrounded by family and friends, they began their new life together. Within a few hours, they were on the road, heading west to California, where the bride had always dreamt of living one day.
That same day in another church only 200 miles northwest, five excited young girls were downstairs in their church’s basement preparing for Sunday school. Sadly, the lesson they would learn was one of hatred and death. Demonic, murderous hatred for no other reason than the color of their skin. They attended the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
When the dynamite exploded beneath the church building, my hope is that they didn’t suffer and were already in the arms of the Lord before they had any awareness of what had been done to them.
The blast killed four of the girls: Addie Mae Collins (14) Carole Robertson (14) Cynthia Wesley (14) and Denise McNair (11). Sarah Collins, the younger sister of Addie Mae survived the attack, but lost an eye and needed to have several reconstructive facial surgeries.
The young couple whose wedding I began this post with, were my parents. Birmingham was my father’s hometown, and without realizing it they would be spending their wedding night in a war zone. I asked my mother once if she and my father knew what was going on that day. They had heard some news about it but did not know the full extent of what had transpired.
Our 11-year-old son is homeschooled. Today, our social studies lesson was about the terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the devastating role it played in the civil rights movement. After watching a short film about the attack, my son’s face was solemn, his eyes close to years. Mine were as well.
My husband and I proceeded to educate him on the reasons why someone would bomb a church of all places, without having any thought or care about the death left in their wake.
We also talked about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy visiting family in Mississippi the summer of 1955, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered for supposedly flirting with a white woman.
Today I had to make it clear to my biracial son, that there were and still are people in this world who would have no problem killing Black and biracial children as well as adults, convinced they’d be doing the right thing.
As I type this, I’m sad that it was even necessary to tell my son about such atrocities. Not "out there" in another country, here in our own. But, this is the world we live in.
So, it’s with a heavy heart tonight that I contemplate the lives of those four little girls and their unwitting sacrifice. Their lives stolen, not by some foreign terrorist group, but four* fellow Americans, Ku Klux Klan members, drunk on the ideology of white supremacy that has never really left this country. Yes, even with a Black family in the White House.
It has only become more subtle over the decades, and as a result, harder to prove.
May we never forget.
Addie Mae Collins
Rest in Peace and Power
"Terrorism is Part of Our History": Angela Davis on '63 Church Bombing, Growing up in"Bombingham"
Martin Luther King Jr. 'Eulogy for the Young Victims September18, 1963
Birmingham Sunday, Joan Baez
*I don't feel the need in this post to list the names of the guilty. The info is easily found by a simple Google search.