The Lives They Might Have Lived, 4 Little Girls

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birimingham, Ala., is a national landmark. (Gary Tramontina/Getty Images)
The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birimingham, Ala., is a national landmark. (Gary Tramontina/Getty Images)

"This is for four women who are not here," Leonard Pitts Jr. writes at the Miami Herald in an evocative reflection on the lives of the four little girls who died in the Birmingham, Ala., church bombing. He pays homage to the accomplishments they were never able to achieve due to racial hatred.

It is for grandchildren who never existed and retirement celebrations that were never held. It is for Sunday dinners that were never prepared in homes that were never purchased. It is for children who were never born and fathers who never got to walk daughters down the aisle. It is for mortarboards that were never flung into the air, for first kisses that were never stolen, for dreams that ended even as they still were being conceived.

This is for four little girls who died, 50 years ago today.

Died. It is, in this context, a misleading word. Makes it sound as if maybe 11-year-old Denise McNair and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14, succumbed to some disease. Hearing it, you might not realize they died because terrorists planted a bomb beneath an exterior stairway of their church and that it exploded while they were in the basement preparing for Sunday School. You might not realize that a chunk of concrete embedded itself in one child’s skull or that another child’s head was torn from her body.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., had been the nerve center of a human rights campaign that made the city notorious the previous spring, the place from which nonviolent armies poured to face snarling dogs and high pressure hoses under the command of police commissioner Bull Connor. Because this was what you had to do if you were African American and wanted to drink from a clean public fountain, try on clothes in a department store or buy a hamburger at a lunch counter in Birmingham.


Read Leonard Pitts Jr.'s entire piece at the Miami Herald.

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