(The Root) — The identities of the four little girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing Sept. 15, 1963, have been lumped together to serve to reference a point in the struggle for civil rights. The girls came to represent the violence black people endured at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and those who opposed racial equality during the 1960s. The Root sought to unravel that collective identity and bring attention to the amazingly ordinary lives these girls lived. Addie Mae Collins, 14; Carol Robertson, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14; and Denise McNair, 11, had active roles in their schools and neighborhoods.
These girls, martyrs of the civil rights movement, could not have imagined their role in history, let alone conceive that they would one day become recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal. When they died, they were merely preparing for Sunday school at their local church.
Addie Mae Collins
Addie was an avid artist who had a knack for drawing “people real good,” her younger sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph, told People magazine. Rudolph was with Addie in the church basement when the explosion went off. Addie was killed instantly, while Sarah lost an eye when a piece of shattered glass got lodged into it.
According to the Birmingham News profile, Addie and her sisters were little businesswomen in their hometown. They would go door to door selling their mother’s handmade aprons (50 cents each) and potholders (35 cent each).
Her sister, Janie, remembers that Addie had a mean underhand pitch when playing ball, liked to play hopscotch and was often the peacemaker for arguments among her seven brothers and sisters.
Cynthia was the first adopted daughter of her parents and had an easy time making friends. She would invite friends over to her backyard to play music and entertain. She did really well in reading and math, was constantly laughing and “just full of fun all the time,” her friend Karen Floyd Savage recalls.