Thursday was the 59th anniversary of the bombing of the 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four little girls during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Congresswoman Terri Sewell spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to commemorate this tragic incident of domestic terrorism.
On September 15, 1963, white supremacists detonated nineteen sticks of dynamite under the church, killing Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Morris Wesley.
“Four precious Little Girls—Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Morris Wesley—who died in the sacred walls of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama fifty-nine years ago,” Sewell said. “On September 15, 1963, as the Four Little Girls were getting dressed in the bathroom of the church basement, preparing to sing in the choir, nineteen sticks of dynamite placed under the church detonated. They totally exploded, causing the interior walls to actually fall in.”
“The crowd of about 200 people who gathered for the 11:00 a.m. service, they evacuated the church,” Sewell continued. “But the church was filled with smoke, and underneath the debris laid Four Little Girls. Along with the little girls who lost their lives, dozens of others were injured that day, including Sarah Collins Rudolph, the younger sister of Addie Mae Collins, who was in the basement with her sister and the other girls preparing for church that day.”
The senseless violence led to more protest marches and eventually the passage of civil rights legislation.
“Due to the violently racist nature of the attack, thousands of African Americans protested across the State of Alabama, and in response, George Wallace called the police to break up the demonstrations,” Sewell said. “The violent clashes between the protesters and police resulted in massive arrests and the tragic loss of two more lives, two little boys that died that day, Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware. The two boys, one sixteen and the other thirteen, were killed within hours of the church bombing.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described the bombing as one of the most vicious, tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,
“Although we will never replace the lives lost or injuries suffered, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 proved that their sacrifices were not in vain,” Sewell said. “Today, as we reflect on our painful history, we are reminded that every gain in the battle for Civil Rights has come at a high cost, paid by those who sacrificed everything for a vision and a dream bigger than themselves.”
“As a direct beneficiary of the legacy of the Four Little Girls, I was honored that the very first bill that I passed in this body posthumously bestowed upon them the Congressional Gold Medal to ensure that this nation will never forget their sacrifice,” Sewell said.
The story of the 4 Little Girls was made into a Spike Lee documentary in 1997 by the same name.
Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.
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