Birmingham marks the 60th anniversary of the 1963 church bombing that killed four Black girls


Firefighters and ambulance attendants remove a covered body from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 15, 1963, after a deadly explosion detonated by members of the Ku Klux Klan during services. Alabama on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, will mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing that killed four girls. Lisa McNair, the sister of one of the victims, said as the anniversary is remembered, she hoped people will think about what they can do to combat hate.

AP Photo

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama on Friday will mark the 60th anniversary of one of the most heinous attacks during the Civil Rights Movement, the 1963 bombing of a church that killed four Black girls in 1963.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the nation’s highest court, will give the keynote address at the remembrance Friday morning at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

On the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, dynamite planted by Ku Klux Klan members exploded at the church, killing the girls and shocking the nation. The large, prominent church was targeted because it was a center of the African American community and the site of mass meetings during the Civil Rights Movement.

The girls were gathered in a downstairs washroom to freshen up before Sunday services when the blast rocked the church. The explosion killed 11-year-old Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins, all 14. A fifth girl, Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Mae, was in the room and was severely injured but survived.

The racist attack came eight months after then-Gov. George Wallace pledged, “segregation forever” during his inaugural address and two weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington.

Lisa McNair, Denise’s sister, said as the nation remembers the 60th anniversary, she wants people to remember what happened and think about how they can prevent it from happening again.

“People killed my sister just because of the color of her skin,” McNair said. “Don’t look at this anniversary as just another day. But what are we each going to do as an individuals to try to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” McNair said.

Three Ku Klux Klansmen were eventually convicted in the blast: Robert Chambliss in 1977; Thomas Blanton in 2001; and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002.

A wreath will be laid at the spot where the dynamite device was placed along an outside wall. McNair has asked city churches to join in tolling their bells Friday morning to mark the moment when the bomb went off.


Supreme Court to decide whether Alabama can postpone drawing new congressional districts

The outcome could determine what map the state uses in the 2024 elections and whether the high court will revisit arguments over the role of race in redistricting.

Q&A: Author of ‘Rocket Men’ details how Black quarterbacks helped move the NFL forward

John Eisenberg talks with the Gulf States Newsroom about the Black quarterbacks who helped change the NFL, as well as the players who never got the chance.

Q&A: Why New Orleans’ unhoused people face increased danger from relentless heat

Delaney Nolan discusses her report for The Guardian that revealed a spike in heat-related illness calls among New Orleans’ unhoused people this summer.

How a rural Alabama school system outdid the country with gains in math

Piedmont City schools notched significant improvement in math, landing in the top spot among school districts across the country in a comparison of scores from before and during the pandemic. Nationwide, students on average fell half a year behind in math, researchers say.

Video shows high school band director shocked with stun gun, arrested after refusing to stop music

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, who is representing band director Johnny Mims as his attorney, said Tuesday that the incident is an “alarming abuse of power” that instead “should have been should have been deescalated.”

Protecting Margaritaville: Jimmy Buffett, Bama and the Fight to Save the Manatee

The singer, who died Sept. 1, grew up in Mobile and had a huge following in Alabama, even if many of his devotees in the state were less than thrilled by his liberal politics.

More Front Page Coverage