16th Street Baptist Church bombing remembered
Posted on Sep 11, 2012 in News
This Saturday will mark the 49th year since the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that took place here in Birmingham. The racially driven act of terrorism was a major turning point in the civil rights movement and stands historically as one of the most infamous acts of violence in the country.
On the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb exploded underneath the front entrance of the church right before a Sunday morning sermon.
“I heard something that sounded, at first, a little like thunder and then just this terrific noise and the windows came crashing in,” Carolyn McKinstry told NPR in 2001. McKinstry served as her class secretary in the church at fourteen years old and was present on the morning of the bombing.
“And then a lot of screaming, just a lot of screaming and I heard someone say, `Hit the floor.’ And I remember being on the floor … and it was real quiet.”
Birmingham, which had come to be known as Bombingham as a result of the explosion and many others, had become the focal point of the civil rights movement that had lacked in the South and the bombing sparked a worldwide urgency to act against the violence that continued.
The explosion killed fourteen year-olds Cynthia Wesler, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and eleven year-old Denise McNair, but no initial arrest were made.
“These are friends of mine,” said McKinstry. “And we come to Sunday school one day and they’re gone. They’re dead. They’re just blown away and Birmingham goes on with business as usual.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. told President Kennedy from Atlanta that if steps were taken to prevent the violence emerging in the south, there would be “in Birmingham and Alabama the worst racial holocaust this Nation has ever seen.”
Finally, the four men responsible for the crime, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash, Robert Chambliss and Bobby Frank Cherry, were indicted and convicted years later, the last of the men being indicted after 40 years following the blast.
Today, the 16th Street Baptist Church stands at the intersection of 16th Street and 6th Avenue with daily tours given Tuesday through Friday.