Junie Collins Williams

Junie Peavy with SonMy name is Junie Collins Williams. I was born during segregation. I came of age during the civil rights demonstrations of the 50s and 60s. And on a dark Sunday in 1963, I became an unwilling witness to a pivotal event of that time: the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama.

Later, newspaper reports would talk about what a fine day it was; not one that would make anyone think that such a terrible event would happen. But those of us who were there remember it has an overcast day: dark, and heavy. It made you feel uneasy, like something was going to happen.

Before that day ever came, something happened that really bothered me at the time, but later I realized that it saved my life. I saw it as a bad thing, but because of it, I escaped death. Early in the morning, I would play piano for the Youth Department. After that, when I should have been returning to my Sunday School Class upstairs, I would linger downstairs - right in the area where the four girls were killed. I wasn't too fond of the class I was assigned to, so I would study my lesson by myself, in peace and quiet. And, one Sunday, it happened: the Lord sent an adult to question me about my being where I was.

She said, "Collins, Iíve noticed you sitting here several Sundays now. Arenít you supposed to be upstairs?"

I explained why I was there, and tried to buy favor for my cause by showing the woman that I was indeed getting my lesson. She was unmoved.

"You get on up to your class now, and if I see you down here again, Iím gonna notify your parents".

I slumped upstairs. I knew all too well what it meant for my parents to be told: it meant a whipping for me when I got home if I disobeyed.

A few Sundays later, the day of the bombing, I had what had to be a God-given opportunity to talk one last time with Carol Robertson, one of the girls. A Youth Day program had been fixed, and Carol Robertson had been designated to take part in this program. There she was, dressed all in white, fearful, but at the same time very eager to get the program and her part in it over with. After our conversation was over, Carol went to her classroom. As always, I went to the area where the four girls were killed and began to read my Sunday School lesson. As I opened my book up to begin reading, I heard the voice of Ms. Mabel Shorter ringing as clear that morning as it had a few Sundays earlier. I considered the trouble I could get into. It didn't take much considering to get me up from my seat and up the stairs. No more than ten or fifteen minutes later, the blast ripped through the building, shaking it to its foundations, and sending dust and glass flying in a moving cloud. And four little girls, who had moved into place in the area I had just vacated, were killed.

The trauma of the blast was enough to send me reeling in terror-filled confusion. But then came the moment when I, fresh from that incident, was called on to identify the body of my sister, since my parents and older siblings could not be contacted. She had so much debris blasted through her hair and skin that I almost couldn't recognize her.

Even to this day, this event remains a strange and a very questionable time for me. What if I had not responded to this woman? I believe I know. God spoke to me through this woman, and I personally believe that the devil could have taken me out of the picture if he were able to convince me to disobey her.

This bombing, executed in a desperate attempt to put a stop to the ever-growing civil rights movement, instead, gave it new life. Instead of scaring away those who came to fight for the privileges and rights of all U.S. citizens, the blast was heard around the world, as millions watched in horror and anger. The marches and rallies continued. People from around the country continued to come to Birmingham, Alabama to make their voices heard.

But, the bombing had another effect that was more internal. The lives of dozens of people were affected. I was one of those people.

Others marched in the streets. They were jailed and beaten. But, I was an innocent, sheltered, timid girl. It never would have occurred to me to go downtown and join them at Kelly Ingram Park. I am certain that there were many at 16th St. who would never have thrown themselves fully into the civil rights movement being played out right in their home city. But, Sunday morning, September 15, brought it all to our doorstep for us to deal with.

That was the day when four girls were killed. We should know all the names now; they have become monuments: my sister, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair. Sarah Jean Collins, another sister of mine who was also involved in this tragedy was hurt really bad, losing one of her eyes. And there were many others as well who were mentally devastated over this incident and never overcame the trauma even to this day. This was a day that God knew would make history even before the foundation of this world was formed, a day which the enemy, knowing we were called and appointed to be here for such a time as this would have loved to use so that he could abort Godís plan. But God, through His grace and mercy, preserved and protected me over the years because He had a plan and purpose for my life.

This dark day became a day that would bring black and white, every color, and creed together, and put us on the road to doing away with racial strife. Personal differences would be eliminated, and we all would come to a sense of realization that we are one, and that this violent incident was meant to be in the plan of God before the fall of man, (before Adam and Eve sinned).

We have heard much about the events of the past. I have come from the past; from those events, bringing with me a message of hope: That was why I was saved from death. The enemy (the devil) would have loved to shut me up. But I had to live to give this message:

  • There is hope for healing in America. I know, because I have been healed. I could have let this situation get the best of me, but through Godís work in me, I pushed my way through until what seemed to be a burden around my head was pushed off. And so, God took a day which was meant for evil and turned it around for the good of all.

I harbor no bitterness and resentment against white people. God is no respecter of persons, so why should I be? I could not point the finger of blame at others. Neither could I feel sorry for myself (though there were times when I was tempted to do just that). To do either of those things would only cover the wound, but not heal it.

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