Though they lived in a climate of perpetual hate caused by ignorance and racial segregation, thousands of young people packed Sunday School rooms around Birmingham to engage in lessons of love and grace. However, several adults were determined to teach a contradictory message. At 10:22 a.m., a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church killing four young African-American girls and injuring 20 others. 15 September 1963 became anything but a normal Sunday.
I’ve traveled to Alabama numerous times throughout my life, but have never visited Birmingham. Of the many historical lessons my parents taught and instilled in me, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing resonated with me differently – maybe because I was a young girl full of life learning about young girls losing their lives.
The dichotomy of the Civil Rights Movement is beyond evident – nonviolent advances met with violent resistance. Clashes were rampant in the Jim Crow era. The church bombing, however, was deemed exponentially different because of its intersection of location, time and age of victims that fateful morning. Regardless of one’s belief, our society has typically respected places of worship as peaceful places, designating them as off limits to anything but worship, especially in the South. The same regard was held for Sunday mornings, so much so that many areas of the South continue to prohibit alcohol sales and keep places of business closed until noon on Sundays. Despite the hatred one group held for the other, children were less frequently the victims The fact that this resistance not only claimed lives, but those aged 11 – 14 was beyond unspeakable. Like Rosa Parks’ arrest, this event was another event to better illustrate to the rest of the nation and world the atrocities African-Americans faced daily.
It was imperative for us to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church and honor those whose lives were lost and those whose lives were forever changed one Sunday in 1963.
What historical places have you visited? Which places remain on your bucket list?