Place

Alabama: Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Large brick church with two tall brick spires with rounded tops. Photo by Carol Highsmith, CC0.
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

By Carol M. Highsmith - Library of CongressCatalog, CC0.

Quick Facts






On Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four girls. This murderous act shocked the nation and galvanized the civil rights movement.

Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were dressed in their "Youth Sunday" best, ready to lead the 11:00 adult service at the church, which since its construction in 1911 had served as the center of life for Birmingham's African American community. Only a few minutes before the explosion, they had been together in the basement women's room, excitedly talking about their first days at school. The bombing came without warning.

Following the tragic event, white strangers visited the grieving families to express their sorrow. At the funeral for three of the girls (one family preferred a separate, private funeral), Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about life being "as hard as crucible steel." More than 8,000 mourners, including 800 clergymen of both races, attended the service. No city officials braved the crowds to attend.

News stories circulated about symbolic incidents that occurred at the time of the bombing. For example, the image of Jesus' face was knocked cleanly out of the only surviving stained-glass window in the church's east wall, and the church clock stopped at exactly 10:22 a.m.

The deaths of the children followed by the loss of President Kennedy two months later gave birth to a tide of grief and anger--a surge of emotional momentum that helped ensure the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In October 2019 the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was chosen for inclusion in the African American Civil Rights Network for its enduring connection to the black freedom struggle. 

The African American Civil Rights Network (AACRN) recognizes the civil rights movement in the United States and the sacrifices made by those who fought against discrimination and segregation. Created by the African American Civil Rights Act of 2017, and coordinated by the National Park Service, the Network tells the stories of the people, places, and events of the U.S. civil rights movement through a collection of public and private elements. 

 

Last updated: June 18, 2020