The Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church – 50 years ago

Click on photo to reach a slide show of photos from the bombing

Sarah Jean Collins, 12, lies in a hospital bed after being blinded by dynamite set off in basement of the church. The explosion killed her sister and three other girls just as her Sunday school class was ending.

On September 15, 1963, two and a half weeks after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a dynamite bomb set by members of the Ku Klux Klan erupted, just as twenty six children walked into the basement assembly room of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, were killed, and 22 others were injured. Photographs of the bombing’s aftermath–including the iconic image of blinded Sarah Jean Collins in her hospital bed–shocked the nation and helped give an emotional push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

I was co-chairman of a local civil rights organization in my home town back in southern New England, then. We mobilized to demonstrate against the violence of the racists who committed crimes like this one. More to the point, we had already planned a jobs campaign we started the next week which opened up jobs for Blacks and Puerto Ricans in previously White-only companies. Some locally-owned. Some were part of national chains.

Every crisis is an opportunity.Don’t mourn – Organize!

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