Bombing Of The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

The September 15, 1963 racially motivated bombing of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which resulted in the death of four innocent black girls, was the nadir of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham and perhaps one of the darkest days in Birmingham's history. City authorities, never sympathetic to blacks, did very little to bring the bombers to justice. Not until 1977 was one of the bombers convicted. Locally, the bombing brought the factional Civil Rights leaders
together. Nationally, the bombing gave the movement not just a face, but four faces, four young, innocent faces.

The Bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Between 1947 and 1965, over fifty bombings occurred in Birmingham, resulting in the city becoming known as "Bombingham"; Perhaps the most famous of these blasts was the one that took the lives of four innocent black youth as they prepared their Sunday School lessons on a Sunday Morning at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

The bombing came as a result of heightened tensions in the city after a federal court ordered its schools to be integrated. Governor George Wallace chose to defy this order and urged his followers to do the same. Such defiance only encouraged Birmingham's bombers to swing into action. Indeed, a local black attorney's house was bombed for the second time in two weeks. In the end, federal authorities won this minor skirmish and the schools were desegregated. Segregationists in Birmingham were not happy.

On a quiet Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, four little black girls prepared their Sunday School lessons in the basement of the church. In the same basement sat a bomb placed by segregationists, designed to kill and maim in protest of the forced integration of Birmingham's public schools. Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins were killed in the explosion. Angry blacks rioted and the civil authorities responded with great violence. During the rest of the day, other black youths were murdered by police and civilians alike, compounding the desperation.

Moderate whites condemned the bombing and the FBI took over the investigation from local authorities that had shown no real concern for solving the crime, though they held strong evidence pointing to the bombers. Because of this local interference, the FBI took over the investigation. With foot dragging of their own, they failed to convict anyone for the crime by 1968. It was not until 1977 that the state convicted but one of the bombers.

The tragedy came as a result of a month of tension following the desegregation of Birmingham's schools. Black leaders and moderate whites alike had tried to prepare their communities for the inevitable mixing of the races in an effort to forestall any event like the riots that had taken place in the previous Spring, where police and firemen used dogs
and fire hoses on demonstrating blacks.

The bombing outraged the nation and gave four little faces to the movement. The blast, combined with other shameful Alabama events, such as the dogs and fire hoses of 1963, and the beatings of demonstrators as they began the Selma to Montgomery march in 1964, contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights of 1965, and
the death of segregation in the South.

Information for this summary came from the following:
Glenn T. Eskew. But For Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Wayne Flynt, and others. Alabama: The History of a Deep South State.
Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994.

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