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Nation recalls horror of 16th Street Baptist Church


Two women brought together by tragedy

By Kristina Dixon | Across Black America

Four innocent young girls getting ready for Sunday services died when the Ku Klux Klan detonated a devastating bomb inside Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church 60 years ago. Today, as the nation commemorates the somber 60th anniversary of that fateful Sept. 15, 1963, day, two remarkable women, Lisa McNair, and Tammie Fields, stand united not only by their shared tragedy but also by their unwavering message to combat hate.

McNair’s sister, Denise, was one of the four girls who tragically died in the bombing. In contrast, Fields’ father, Charles Cagle, was initially questioned as a potential suspect in the horrific church bombing but was never charged. Decades after this devastating event, the two women crossed paths at a Black History Month event, forging a seemingly improbable connection and an enduring friendship.

Despite being born on opposite sides of one of the most heinous events of the civil rights movement, McNair and Fields shared a common goal: to speak out against hate. As the nation reflects on the 60th anniversary of this tragic event, McNair implored people to remember what transpired and contemplate how to prevent such hatred from rearing its head again.

“People killed my sister just because of the color of her skin,” McNair passionately declared in an interview with the Associated Press. “Don’t look at this anniversary as just another day. Instead, consider what each of us can do individually to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

The explosion occurred when dynamite, surreptitiously placed outside the 16th Street Baptist Church underneath a set of stairs, exploded. The four girls, aged 11 to 14, were assembled in a downstairs washroom before Sunday services when the devastating blast occurred. Tragically, 11-year-old Denise McNair and her friends, 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins, all perished in the explosion. A fifth girl, Sarah Collins Rudolph, Addie Mae’s sister, was also in the room and sustained severe injuries, including losing an eye.

The vile act of violence took place during the zenith of the civil rights movement, just eight months after then-Gov. George Wallace defiantly proclaimed, “segregation forever.” It occurred a mere two weeks following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. Three Ku Klux Klansmen were convicted in connection with the bombing: Robert Chambliss in 1977, Thomas Blanton in 2001, and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002.