On September 15, 1963 , exactly forty years ago today, ugly racial hatred exploded in Birmingham, Alabama. The weekend after Birmingham’s public schools were integrated (after a six-year fight), four Ku Klux Klansmen planted dynamite in Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Four African-American girls—Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, and Addie Mae Collins, 14—died in the Sunday morning explosion.
“Their bodies were stacked up on top of each other like bales of hay from the crumbling ruins left by the dynamiting,” remembers a reporter.
“They were children,” reported the Birmingham World, “They were victims of cruel madness, … vile bigotry and … deadly hate.”
The church bombing was one of forty-one racially motivated bombings in Birmingham between 1947 and 1963. Known as “the city that was never too busy to hate,” Bombingham became its nickname.
Two more African-American children died that evening, when “all Birmingham waited with taut nerves … for a possible major eruption of racial violence.” Two white youths killed Virgil Ware, 13, as he rode his bike. A white policeman shot and killed Johnnie Robinson, 16, when the teen threw a rock at a car carrying white passengers.
At Johnnie’s funeral, the Reverend A. L. Woods said: “Not only are we here for the funeral of Johnnie Robinson, but I think we can say we are here for the funeral of Birmingham.”