Sunday, September 15, 2013

Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing: Remembering 50 Years Later

On this date 50 years ago, members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, who were four girls attending Sunday School in the basement. This bombing followed Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's "Birmingham Campaign, which included the "Children's Crusade," where children were encouraged to protest in the streets leading to the use of police dogs and fire hoses on children by segregationist Commissioner of Public Safety "Bull" Connor. The murder of four innocent girls in the church bombing opened the nation's eyes to the level of brutality and violent resistance that could be waged against desegregation. One of the most powerful historical sources for teaching the bombing is Dudley Randall's "Ballad of Birmingham." 

Ballad of Birmingham 
By Dudley Randall (On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

"Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”

“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”


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