Maxine McNair, mother of Denise McNair, one of the four little girls killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, passed away on Sunday, announced by a press release from her family. She was 93.
On the dark day of Sept. 15, 1963, KKK members planted a dynamite bomb that exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing 11 year old Denise McNair and three 14-year-olds: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Rosamond Robertson, and Cynthia Dionne Wesley. Fourteen others were injured. It was the deadliest single attack of the civil rights movement.
Three members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted in the case, the first in 1977 and two more in the early 2000s. All three men died in prison. Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary, 4 Little Girls, chronicled the attack and the aftermath with an interview with Maxine. It was chosen for the National Film Registry in 2017.
Maxine McNair worked as a teacher for over three decades in Birmingham public schools. Through retirement, she continued to volunteer and read to children. Her family stated that she sang, cooked, and did it all with an uplifting smile. The McNair family also had more to say about Maxine from NBC News:
“Mrs. McNair was an amazing wife and mother and as a teacher of 33 years in the Birmingham public school system imparted knowledge in the lives of hundreds. We are going to miss her laughter and her humor. The family would appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers,” the family’s statement said.
In 2013, Maxine McNair attended an Oval Office ceremony in which President Barack Obama awarded the four girls the Congressional Gold Medal. Her daughter, Lisa, also wanted to state her love and admiration for her mother:
“We are going to miss her and I hope the people that loved her will continue to think about the great stories and how she impacted their life. I hope they keep her memory alive. I am glad she got to be my mom,” said her daughter, Lisa McNair.
“That thrust her in a spot of history where she would have much rather never been a part of, but she rallied back, figured out how to raise two more girls and live her life and keep on fighting and plugging away even though her heart broke.
Lisa and her sister, Kimberly, spoke to CNN on the 50th anniversary of the attack in 2013 and talked to Maxine’s enduring strength:
“No one would have blamed her if she’d crawled into bed and cried for the rest of her life,” says Lisa. “Mama said a minister friend of hers told her, ‘Maxine, God has a divine plan, and you just have to follow it.’”