BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBMA/TND) — Friday marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most heinous attacks during the Civil Rights Movement: the deadly bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
The church in Birmingham, Alabama, is holding a service to commemorate the event and honor the lives of the four Black girls who were killed.
On the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, dynamite planted by Ku Klux Klan members exploded, shocking the nation.
The large, prominent church was targeted because it was a center of the African-American community.
The victims were 11-year-old Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins, all 14.
They’d been freshening up before Sunday services when the blast rocked the church.
On the anniversary, church leaders welcomed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the nation’s highest court. She is giving the keynote address at the remembrance
Board of Trustees chair Theodore Debro told WBMA he hoped the words spoken will inspire the community.
“I want them to be inspired themselves, to make a commitment to changing this world,” he explained. “To social justice. To human rights. And not really sit back and accept things as they’re happening, but getting involved to really make a difference in this world.”
Besides seating in the church sanctuary, a big screen was placed across the street at Kelly Ingram Park for the overflow crowd expected.
The racist attack came eight months after then-Gov. George Wallace pledged, “segregation forever” during his inaugural address, and two weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington.
Lisa McNair, Denise’s sister, said as the nation remembers the 60th anniversary, she wants people to remember what happened and think about how they can prevent it from happening again.
“People killed my sister just because of the color of her skin,” McNair said. “Don’t look at this anniversary as just another day. But what are we each going to do as an individuals to try to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” McNair said.
Three Ku Klux Klansmen were eventually convicted in the blast: Robert Chambliss in 1977; Thomas Blanton in 2001; and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002.
A wreath will be laid at the spot where the dynamite device was placed along an outside wall. McNair has asked city churches to join in tolling their bells Friday morning to mark the moment when the bomb went off.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.