Three days before a national tragedy would shake the entire world, on September 8, 2001, George Bush issued a proclamation recognizing one of the darkest hours in American history. On September 15, 2013, Barack Obama’s White House sent out an official statement recognizing the same solemn day.
George W. Bush’s Proclamation 7460 reads, in part:
As a Nation, we celebrate those achievements and look forward to new challenges. At the same time, we also recognize that racism still exists in America.
One of the darkest days for the cause of civil rights was September 15, 1963, when a bomb exploded in the basement of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The blast ended the lives of four young African-American girls, and ultimately demonstrated the tragic human costs of bigotry and intolerance.
Today, we remember Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley who were killed 50 years ago in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. That horrific day in Birmingham, Alabama quickly became a defining moment for the Civil Rights Movement. It galvanized Americans all across the country to stand up for equality and broadened support for a movement that would eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier this year, I was honored to meet with family members of those four precious little girls as America posthumously awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors.
On September 15, 2018, on the anniversary of the day when four white supremacists planted dynamite in a Birmingham church, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, sent out this heartfelt tweet:
Fifty-four years, 364 days, 23 hours and 46 minutes before Trump’s Saturday tweet, at 10:22 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, the phone rang at 16th Street Baptist Church where some 200 worshippers were either attending Sunday School or preparing for the 11:00 a.m. service. When Sunday School Secretary, 14-year old Carolyn Maull answered the phone, an anonymous voice on the other end simply said: “3 minutes” and then hung up the phone.
One minute later, at least 15 sticks of dynamite, planted by United Klans of America members Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss and Bobby Frank Cherry, exploded inside the downtown Birmingham black church.
Windows shattered in buildings two miles away. Cars surrounding the church were damaged. The explosion left a hole seven feet wide in the sanctuary. Dozens of people were injured. Inside the church, five girls were in the basement changing into choir robes to prepare for the sermon that day entitled “A Love that Forgives.”
Twelve-year-old Sarah Collin would lose an eye after 21 pieces of glass were embedded in her face. Sarah’s 14-year-old sister, Addie Mae Collins, who was tying the dress sash for 11-year old Carol Denise McNair, would not survive. Nor would Carol. Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, both 14, would also die.
Near the church, groups of white people began taunting the survivors. Johnny Robinson, a black 16-year-old threw rocks at a gang of white teenagers laughing at the mourners. As Robinson fled to the alley beside the 16th Street Baptist Church, a car blocked his path and James Parker, a white police officer sitting in the back seat, shot Robinson dead.
A few hours later, 13-year old Virgil Lamar Ware was killed by two 16-year-old white teenagers Michael Farley and Larry Joe Simms, who shot Ware after they heard he was out throwing rocks at their friends.
Neither Jack Parker, Michael Farley or Larry Joe Simms served a day in prison, according to the Birmingham News.
The Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church was part of what is probably the longest campaign of terror in American history. Between 1947 and 1965, there were 50 bombings in Birmingham. One neighborhood was attacked so often by the Klan, to this day it is still known as “Dynamite Hill.”
And on this 55th anniversary, the most important thing for Americans to remember is that Barack Obama once said he had visited 57 states
Make America great ... at least once.