Related topics

Prayers and Church Bells on 30th Anniversary of Birmingham Bombing With PM-Civil Rights, Bjt

September 16, 1993

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ A brick church wall blown apart by a Ku Klux Klan bomb has long since been repaired; not so, all the emotional scars.

As it has for 30 years, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church still struggles to heal the emotional wounds caused by the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing that killed four black girls.

A prayer breakfast, bell ringing and worship service on Wednesday marked the anniversary of their deaths.

″It’s been 30 years, but it’s like it was yesterday,″ said James Dunn, 63, as he pointed to the spot where the bomb went off outside the church. ″It’s not talked about every day, but it’s talked about a lot.″

″It’s a sad time,″ said Melvin Johnson, 72. He quietly stood under a tree outside the church as bells rang to mark the time of the blast - 10:22 a.m.

Sunday school was in session at the time of the bombing, which followed weeks of civil rights protests and racial violence. Across the street a few months earlier, authorities had used fire hoses and police dogs to beat back demonstrators.

The bombing drew international attention and became a milestone of the civil rights era.

Fourteen years later, Klansman Robert Chambliss was convicted in the bombing after then-Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the case. Chambliss died in prison in 1985, and no one else was brought to trial.

In the years since the bombing, membership at Sixteenth Street Baptist has dropped from 3,000 to about 200.

Birmingham also is different, with a black mayor presiding over a City Hall once dominated by segregationists.

″I never would have imagined it,″ Johnson said.

He was among the protesters who filled Birmingham’s streets in 1963, and he was bothered that only a couple of dozen people were on hand at the church Wednesday to hear the bells peal in memory of the girls.

″Some of them remember, but they don’t care,″ he said.

But India McMiller said there might be a reason more people did not observe the anniversary.

″It was such a shock,″ said Ms. McMiller, 34, waiting for a bus a few blocks away from the church. ″Sometimes when you bring up bad things like that, it makes you cry.″

Update hourly