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Sunday Discussion: 50th Anniversary of the 16th Street Church Bombings

Geek Alabama Discussion

Today marked the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.  Back in 1963, it was such a tragic event and it shook the entire world!  The bombings killed four little girls named Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.  President Obama even issued a statement and it reads:

Today, we remember Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley who were killed 50 years ago in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.  That horrific day in Birmingham, Alabama quickly became a defining moment for the Civil Rights Movement. It galvanized Americans all across the country to stand up for equality and broadened support for a movement that would eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier this year, I was honored to meet with family members of those four precious little girls as America posthumously awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors.”

Before I get to my feelings about the 50th anniversary, there is a free app you can download to learn more about the Civil Rights movement.  It can be difficult for parents and educators to talk about the bombings with their children.  With that in mind, the Alabama Tourism Department has created a FREE smartphone app that lets parents, teachers, students and travelers to our state understand the impact and legacy of this event and learn how the Civil Rights movement unfolded in 1963 and beyond.

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The app highlights the important people, destinations and timeline of one of the most significant movements of the 20th century, and includes information on legislation that helped to reshape and redefine who we are as a nation. The app is free and available for all smartphones and devices.  Download it and browse through their interactive pages and you will see how the app can be used as an educational resource in the home or at school.  To learn more and to download, go to: http://alabama.travel/civil-rights-app

In 1963, Birmingham was known as “Bombingham.”  Numerous homes and businesses occupied by people with black skin were bombed.  The Birmingham Police was run by Bull Connor, and the police had a relationship with the Ku-Klux-Klan.  This meant the police harassed anyone who was not a white skin color.  Birmingham was the most segregated city in the country and it made national and worldwide news when violent protests between the police and the people were shown on TV.

On Sunday September 15th 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.  Children were preparing for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives.”  Soon afterwards, at 10:22 am, the bomb exploded killing those four little girls while they were attending a Sunday School class.  Twenty-three other people were also hurt by the blast.  Later, Robert Chambliss was identified as planting the dynamite, but he only got a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.

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Public Domain Photo.

The case was never investigated until the 1970’s when Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the case and Robert Chambliss was tried and convicted.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  The other Ku-Klux-Klan members who were responsible, Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, and Herman Frank Cash either passed away or were convicted as well.  In my opinion, one of the best movies made from the Civil Rights Movement was the movie Selma, Lord, Selma.  If you have not seen it yet, take 90 minutes and watch below!

It took until July 1964 for The Civil Rights Act to be passed by Congress and signed by President Johnson.  Other violent events like Bloody Sunday and the March to Montgomery had to take place to show the country about the problems going on in Alabama.  No doubt, it took Alabama many years after the Civil Rights Act was signed to heal.  Today, I feel like Alabama still has some racist problems going on.  It’s not about blacks and whites, it’s over Hispanics.  The Alabama Legislature passed HB 56 or the Illegal Immigration bill a few years ago and in my opinion it was not about illegals.  It was about some people in Alabama wanting to limit another race from growing.

Today, most people in Alabama are caring and accepting to all people no matter what their skin color or beliefs are.  But sadly, there are still some people who are racists.  Some people still hates anyone who has a different skin color other than white skin.  Some people also hates anyone who thinks differently.  For example, some people have been attacked in Alabama because they are homosexual.  Alabama still has a long way to go before everyone is treated equally, but slowly, it’s getting there!

Today during the Sunday afternoon commemoration service on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the church, Attorney General Eric Holder said “My colleagues and I are determined to invest in proven innovations while safeguarding the achievements that earlier generations worked so hard to secure.  We must not – and will not – stand by and allow the slow unraveling of the progress for which so many have sacrificed so much.”  Hopefully Alabama will not fall back into the dark spiral from the 1960’s.

No matter who took the podium this Sunday to address the big crowd at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the message was the same – progress has been made, but don’t become complacent.  Keep working toward equality.  Remember the past, but look toward the future.  The church was so full attendees filled nearby Kelly Ingram Park to watch the proceedings that were broadcast on several large screens.  I am glad people still cares about the history of the Civil Rights movement!