16th Street Baptist Church bombing
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was a racially motivated terrorist attack on September 15, 1963, by members of a Ku Klux Klan group in Birmingham, Alabama in the United States. The bombing of the African-American church resulted in the deaths of four girls. Although city leaders had reached a settlement in May with demonstrators and started to integrate public places, not everyone agreed with ending segregation. Other acts of violence followed the settlement. The bombing increased support for people working for civil rights. It marked a turning point in the U.S. 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The three-story Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was a rallying point for civil rights activities through the spring of 1963, and is where the students who marched out of the church to be arrested during the 1963 Birmingham campaign's Children's Crusade were trained. The demonstrations led to an agreement in May between the city's African-American leaders and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to integrate public facilities in the country.
In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash, and Robert Chambliss, members of United Klans of America, a Ku Klux Klan group, planted a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the church, near the basement.
At about 10:22 a.m., when twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room for closing prayers of a sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” the bomb exploded. According to an interview on NPR on September 15, 2008, Denise McNair's father stated that the sermon never took place because of the bombing. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), were killed in the attack, and 22 additional people were injured, one of whom was Addie Mae Collins' younger sister, Sarah.
The explosion blew a hole in the church's rear wall, destroyed the back steps, and left intact only the frames of all but one stained-glass window. The lone window that survived the concussion was one in which Jesus Christ was depicted knocking on a door, although Christ's face was destroyed. In addition, five cars behind the church were damaged, two of which were destroyed, while windows in the laundromat across the street were blown out.
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. Tensions became high when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) became involved in a campaign to register African Americans to vote in Birmingham.
On Sunday, 15 September, 1963, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Soon afterwards, at 10:22 a.m., the bomb exploded killing Denise McNair (11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14). The four girls had been attending Sunday school classes at the church. Twenty-three other people were also hurt by the blast.
Civil rights activists blamed George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, for the killings. Only a week before the bombing he had told The New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a "few first-class funerals."
A witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On 8 October, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.
The case was unsolved until Bill Baxley was elected attorney general of Alabama. He requested the original Federal Bureau of Investigation files on the case and discovered that the organization had accumulated a great deal of evidence against Chambliss that had not been used in the original trial.
In November, 1977 Chambliss was tried once again for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. Now aged 73, Chambliss was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Chambliss died in an Alabama prison on 29 October, 1985.
On 17 May, 2000, the FBI announced that the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing had been carried out by the Ku Klux Klan splinter group, the Cahaba Boys. It was claimed that four men, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry had been responsible for the crime. Cash was dead but Blanton and Cherry were arrested and Blanton has since been tried and convicted.
Reactions & Aftermath
The city of Birmingham initially offered a $52,000 reward for the arrest of the bombers. Governor George Wallace, an outspoken segregationalist, offered an additional $5,000. However, civil rights activist Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. wired Wallace that "the blood of four little children ... is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder." 
Three days after the tragedy, former Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor inflamed tensions by saying to a crowd of 2,550 people at a Citizen's Council meeting, "If you're going to blame anyone for getting those children killed in Birmingham, it's your Supreme Court." Connor recalled that in 1954, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision had been reached, he said, "You're going to have bloodshed, and it's on them (the Court), not us." He also suggested that African Americans may have set the bomb deliberately to provoke an emotional response, saying, "I wouldn't say it's above (Dr. Martin Luther) King's crowd.".
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 all races, attended the service. No city officials attended.
- The song "Birmingham Sunday", composed by Richard Farina and most famously recorded by Joan Baez, chronicled the events and aftermath of the bombing.
- The song "Mississippi Goddam" was composed and sung by Nina Simone in reaction to the racially-motivated bombings.
- A 1997 documentary about the bombing, 4 Little Girls, directed by Spike Lee, was nominated for an Academy Award for "Best Documentary".
- The song "Alabama" on John Coltrane's Live at Birdland (recorded November 18, 1963) served as an elegy to the bombing.
- The novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis vividly conveys the events of the bombing.
- The poem "The Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall
- The song "American Guernica" by Adolphus Hailstork
- A 2002 television drama Sins of the Father, directed by Robert Dornhelm, is based on the events of the bombing
- The song "Coded Language" by Saul Williams
- Four Spirits (2003), novel by Sena Jeter Naslund and play (2006) by Naslund and Elaine Hughes. The world premiere of the play was on February 7, 2008 at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
- The poem "Birmingham Sunday" by Langston Hughes.
- The novel Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison contains an allusion to this incident.
- The song "Bear It Away" from the album Wandering Strange by Kate Campbell, was written to describe this incident.
- Phil Ochs - Golden Ring
- The song "Heart" on Rocky Rivera's self titled debut album.
- African-American history
- African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968)
- Birmingham campaign
- James Bevel
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Mass racial violence in the United States
- Timeline of the African-American Civil Rights Movement
Cite error: Invalid
parameter "group" is allowed only.
<references />, or
<references group="..." />
- Branch, Taylor (1988). Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-68742-5.
- Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Citation/CS1/Suggestions' not found.
- Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Citation/CS1/Suggestions' not found.
- Hamlin, Christopher M. (1998). Behind the Stained Glass: A History of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Birmingham, AL: Crane Hill
- Online archives at the Birmingham Public Library, including the investigation and trial
- Online History
- Additional Information
- John Archibald, Hansen, Jeff (1997-09-15). "Church bomb felt like "world shaking"". Birmingham News. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
- Father Recalls Deadly Blast At Ala. Baptist Church : NPR
- "Six Dead After Church Bombing". The Washington Post.
- "We Shall Overcome Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement". Retrieved 2007-11-19.