“How could people be so vicious and so hateful that they would place a bomb in a church? - Bishop James Lowe
Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell gave us a great line - “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.
Maybe there should be another one – you don’t know what you got ‘til you learn others don’t have what you have.
That’s nowhere near poetic, but it’s the best I can do to try and compare my safe and secure childhood with those of African-Americans who lived in places where hateful bigots wanted no part of equal rights and committed themselves to campaigns of terror and murder.
Next Sunday, September 15th marks another 50th anniversary (somehow that word seems so wrong in these cases) of another turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. A mere 18 days after the success of the “March on Washington,” a horrific act of violence and terrorism took place at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A bomb ripped through the basement of the church. Four black girls - Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley - were killed and more than a dozen were injured.
The bombing took place on Youth Day. As I read more about the bombing, that struck a chord with me. I was six in ’63 and remember the Youth Days from my childhood. Every Sunday morning, Dad, Mom, Jim, Gail, Joan and I put on our best clothes and went to Sunday School and the worship services at College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro. One year I served as an usher.
In September 1963, I was pretty much oblivious to the troubles in the Deep South. Now I have a chance to learn more about what took place. I’m reading “Last Chance for Justice: How Relentless Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers” by T. K. Thorne.
Birmingham Sergeant/FBI analyst Ben Herren emerges as someone who takes on what seems like an impossible task. He faced many obstacles, including serious doubts of finding enough evidence to bring the case, having to work in secrecy for fifteen months and not having access to classified files for the first six months. Scores of potential witnesses had died, while others didn’t want to testify or impeaching their credibility would have been a field day for the defense. Herren’s old-school partner was initially recalcitrant and grumpy, but also emerged as someone willing to spend countless hours trying to find the needle-in-the-haystack.
Another sad fact from these times is the dozens of racially-motivated bombings of homes and churches before and after this one.
Here are some events and info.
“Last Chance for Justice: How Relentless Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers” by T. K. Thorne
"While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement" by Carolyn Maull McKinstry
"Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case" by Frank Sikora
"Long Time Coming: An Insider's Story of the Birmingham Church Bombing that Rocked the World" by Elizabeth Cobbs and Petric J. Smith