Today is the 50th anniversary of the horrific bombing of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls and became the catalyst which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. At 10:22 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, as families arrived to attend services at the church, a thunderous explosion rang out from the basement, where several girls had gone to use the toilets. The bomb was thrown by Ku Klux Klan members into the basement and it killed Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, Addie Mae Collins, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14.
By the late summer of 1963, Birmingham, had become a hot spot in the Civil Rights Movement, and 16th St. Baptist Church served as a central meeting place for organisers like Martin Luther King who had led efforts to win Civil Rights for black people.
Although the horrific 1963 bombing proved to be a turning point in the Civil Rights movement, justice was anything but swift for the men who planted the dynamite that killed four black girls. Despite a national outcry for justice, however, this was Birmingham, a place where 50 other racially motivated bombings had gone unsolved over recent decades, earning the town the nickname “Bombingham.” It took 40 years bring closure: one man was convicted in 2002 for his role in the bombing conspiracy, and died two years later while serving a life sentence. Another was found guilty of state murder charges in 2001, and is still serving a life term, a third died in prison in 1985 and fourth died without ever serving a day behind bars.
Like many church’s constructed during that era, the church was a tall brick building with stained glass windows which were all blown out.
I was 15 when this horrendous bombing took place. It was the catalyst that committed me to a lifetime of fighting for social justice. What I’m proudest of, however, is the response of the children of Wales who responded to a newspaper appeal to finance a new stained glass window for the church. The maximum donation allowed was the equivalent of 12p so it was in the range of their pocket money. Today the Wales Window, crafted by Welsh artist John Petts, stands as a symbol of the unity of the children of Wales with the black people, especially the children, of Birmingham, AL and the wider USA. I’m so proud to be a Welshman in a nation known for its inclusion and tolerance.