Fifty years ago, I went to church on this date. And fifty years ago, four little girls in Birmingham Alabama went to church with their families on Sunday morning. After church I went home, But those four girls, would not return home.
I remember hearing the story of everything that happened, and I was just a bit younger, and did not fully understand. A news bulletin had come on the television, and my parents became quite upset, and they began calling their friends and talking about what had happened. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama had been bombed, by some angry white men.
My childish mind was wondering what the little girls had done to anger the bombers so much. Had they shown some kind of terrible disrespect, or had they committed some unforgiveable act?
I recall asking my mother "but why did they hurt the girls?" Tactfully she explained to me, that sometimes there are just bad people in the world, who do mean things. But I wanted to know---"had the girls been bad?"
I remember my mom explaining to me, quite patiently that good people were being hurt all the time, by mean people who did not like Negroes and they wanted to simply hurt them. "But they died." And she sensed my struggle trying to comprehend something that was simply without logic or comprehension. I recall being afraid, and wondered if our small church would be blown up. "Oh no, that won't happen here," she assured me. "That was down in Alabama, and not here in Arkansas." And now, I wonder now five decades later, what my mother must have felt and thought. I had been sheltered from so much already. And somehow I felt safe, in Arkansas, unaware of what had transpired in Little Rock just six years earlier and what had transpired even closer to home a mere 3 years earlier.
In the fall of 1957, the crisis of the integration the schools in Little Rock had unfolded, but I was far too young to have understood those headlines. And in 1963, hearing about the bombing in "far away" Alabama, somehow, I felt that I was safe, fully unware of local sentiments in my part of Arkansas, that were not dramatically different from that of the Birmingham bombers.
A mere 3 years in the nearby town of Van Buren, Arkansas, several children tried to attend high school. They went through much torment by their classmates and only recently I found a newspaper clipping that described what they went through.
The town of Van Buren was very close to my hometown, just a drive across the Arkansas River bridge. I realize as my mother was comforting me, she had to recall the stories of what had happened less than 10 miles away. Though she pointed out that the church bombing happened in "far away" Alabama, but she knew what the struggles in Little Rock had involved and she was aware of what the students in the neighboring town went through.
This past summer while in Birmingham, I visited the Civil Rights Museum and directly across the street was the Church. I saw the church through the windows of the Institute.
16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama
I had to go and visit that church and touch the space where those children died. I went with a friend and walked inside of that beautiful sacred church. It was serene, and reflected nothing of the horrors of 50 years ago.
Interior of 16th Street Baptist Church, taken in June of this year.
Commemorative Plaque on the corner where church bombing occurred.
For me, this was a very moving experience. This was the first time I had visited the very spot where people were killed for the right just to walk as free people. This was the place that had robbed my own innocent perspective of the world.
Image in the Civil Rights's Musuem in Birmingham depicting
the bombing that occurred across the street from the site.
I would learn a lot more that week--I learned what had happened in Little Rock, what had happened in nearby Van Buren, and I learned about a little boy from Chicago called Emmett Till.
So many parents fifty years ago had to explain so much to their children, that evening, and for so many people of color, not only were four precious lives lost, but so was the innocence of so many children taken on that day.
May Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise always be remembered. They did not die in vain.
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