Bombing Of The Sixteenth Street Baptist
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
City authorities, never sympathetic to blacks, did very little to
the bombers to justice. Not until 1977 was one of the bombers
Locally, the bombing brought the factional Civil Rights leaders
together. Nationally, the bombing gave the movement not just a face,
four faces, four young, innocent faces.
The Bombing of the Sixteenth Street
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
innocent black youth as they prepared their Sunday School lessons on
Sunday Morning at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
The bombing came as a result of heightened tensions in the city
federal court ordered its schools to be integrated. Governor George
Wallace chose to defy this order and urged his followers to do the
Such defiance only encouraged Birmingham's bombers to swing into
Indeed, a local black attorney's house was bombed for the second
two weeks. In the end, federal authorities won this minor skirmish
the schools were desegregated. Segregationists in Birmingham were
On a quiet Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, four little black
prepared their Sunday School lessons in the basement of the church.
the same basement sat a bomb placed by segregationists, designed to
and maim in protest of the forced integration of Birmingham's public
schools. Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie
Collins were killed in the explosion. Angry blacks rioted and the
authorities responded with great violence. During the rest of the
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
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
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
alike had tried to prepare their communities for the inevitable
of the races in an effort to forestall any event like the riots that
taken place in the previous Spring, where police and firemen used
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,
as the dogs and fire hoses of 1963, and the beatings of
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,
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
the Civil Rights Struggle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Wayne Flynt, and others. Alabama: The History of a Deep South State.
Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994.
| recent events | journey to
peace | lesson plans | tribute
| links | bookstore