In 1963, on September 15th, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by members of the Klu Klux Klan. Five young girls were preparing for church services in the basement when the bomb went off, killing four of them, and injuring many others of the congregation.
During the 1960’s Birmingham, Alabama was one of the nation’s most segregated cities and had one the strongest and most violent KKK chapters. Racial tension was extreme and because of this, several civil right leaders made Birmingham the focus of many efforts to desegregate the South. Unfortunately, these efforts made Birmingham a dangerous place, earning the nickname “Bomingham” for as many as 80 bombs had been set off within the city by 1963.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was home to a primarily black congregation and a meeting place for civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. The church bombing, which killed Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins, and injuring others, was the third bomb that went off within 11 days. The deaths of the four girls were the last straw and angry protestors gathered at the site of the church bombing. The situation quickly escalated into violence when Governor Wallace sent the police and state troopers to break up the protest. Many protestors were arrested and two were killed before the National Guard was called in to restore order.
In 1977, some justice was achieved when Robert Edward Chambliss, a Ku Klux Klan member, was convicted of murder for the 1963 church bombing and sentenced to life in prison. In 2001, two other accused KKK members, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry, were also found guilty of murder for having participated in the church bombing.
The deaths of Cynthia, Carole, Denise, and Addie were terribly tragic. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave the eulogy at the girls’ funeral three days after the bombing, had even called them martyrs of the civil rights movement. It was a turning point and their deaths strengthened the cause for desegregation.
Indiana University East welcomes guest speaker Barbara Cross as this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Speaker. Cross, a survivor of the 1963 church bombing, is the daughter of the Rev. John Cross, pastor of the church when the bombing occurred. Cross will speak at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 21, in the Whitewater Hall Community Room. She is a graduate of Tuskegee University and retired from Bell South Services following more than 30 years in customer and network services
Cross and her father were in the Spike Lee documentary “4 Little Girls,” which was nominated for an Oscar. The film will be shown on campus at noon on Jan. 21 in The Graf, and at 5:30 pm in the Community Room.
For more information about Barbara Cross or the 1963 church bombing, you can go to our libguide at http://iue.libguides.com/4littlegirls .
“Birmingham Church Bombing.” 2014. The History Channel website. Jan 8 2014, 3:22
Goldman, Russell. “House Honors Birmingham Church Bombing Victims.” 2013. ABC News website. April 25 2013.