Bombing was one of the tactics used to intimidate and harrass African Americans. On Sunday morning September 15, 1963, a bomb buried at the church exploded, killing four girls -- Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14) were killed in the blast. Nearly two dozen other people were injured.
According to our tour guides, there were hundreds of bombings of black churches, homes and businesses during the early 1960s, but the bombing at 16th Street Baptist was the only bombing with loss of life. I visited 16th Street Baptist in 2006 and watched Spike Lee's documentary about the bombing, 4 Little Girls. I was saddened and sickened and angry in 2006. There's an additional poignancy? pain? understanding? sitting in the sanctuary at 16th Street Baptist with Knoxville UU Ministers Chris Buice and Mitra Jafarzedeh one week after the sentencing of the man who committed violence in the sanctuary of the Tennessee Valley UU Church last summer.
We spend most of the rest of the afternoon at the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum across the street from 16th Street Baptist. I like this museum a lot -- with one exception. The video at the entrance tells the history of Birmingham, a city built new and fresh and segregated two decades after the end of the Civil War. The exhibits are compelling: a "white" classroom and a "black" classroom side by side for easy contrast; a display case full of pickaninny salt and pepper shakers and other racist memorabilia; news coverage of Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King's speeches and interviews with prominent members of the Birmingham community.
The last time I visited the museum I left sad and angry. The very last room is a "civil rights for everyone" sort of room which promotes the full inclusion of just about every group of historically marginalized folks...with the exception of gays and lesbians, who were conspicuously absent in 2006. I decided to skip the last room, but friends who went the distance tell me that it's a bit better today. In additon to the permanent display there's a computerized display that includes leading edge issues, like the pros and cons of same-sex marriage. It would be a comfort (not to mention fair) if the display included a similar list for mixed-sex marriages: you know -- the kind between one man and one woman.
This afternoon's oft-repeated lesson: the line between "leading edge" and "bleeding edge" is perilously thin.