From left, Lisa McNair, sister of 16th Street Baptist Church bombing victim Denise McNair, and Reps. Terri A. Sewell, Spencer Bachus and Sanford D. Bishop Jr., talk on the House steps before Wednesday’s vote to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombings: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. The 1963, bombing in Birmingham, Ala., served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement. In the background, a staff member carries a poster with photos of the victims.
Dianne Braddock will return to her old church in Birmingham this Sunday, 50 years after her little sister was killed, along with three other girls, during the sunday school hour at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Like many church’s constructed during that era, the church was a tall brick building replete with stain glass windows including a large pane that showed the image of Jesus.
The Rev. Wallace Charles Smith reflected on that particular window during a special prayer service this week to remember the bombing.
Hours later, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talked about the same window and how the face of Jesus was blown away by the blast during the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the families of the four murdered girls.
“Nearly every stain glass window in the building was blown out save one. The window that showed Christ leading a group of children but with his face missing,” McConnell said during his speech. ” Some said the symbolism was rich –did God abandon his flock? –but many others rejected that notion. In time, it was revealed that the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was a decisive turn in the Civil Rights movement.
Smith, who along with several of his members attended the Capitol Hill program, said at the Shiloh service, “We must never allow the face of Christ to be blown out by our inactivity, by our indifference.”
Also at Shiloh, DC Council member Tommy Wells talked about moving to Birmingham in 1964 as a child and how King wrote the Letter from the Birmingham jail because many in the white community refused to get involved.
“My friend’s dad was the sports editor of the newspaper and he wrote Governor George Wallace to investigate the bombing and [was] sent back an autographed photo,” Wells said. “It was shameful. We couldn’t get the state to investigate.”
Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said during the Congressional medal ceremony, “I was in Alabama 50 years ago, 60 miles from Birmingham in Tuscaloosa when we heard the news. We were coming from the First Presbyterian Church. We knew that it was a shameful act.”
DC activist Philip Pannell is one of the coordinators of a service of remembrance this Sunday at the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Southwest. He was a child growing up in Newport News, Virginia when he heard about the incident. “We were afraid. The KKK was in Newport and we felt like that could have been one of us.”
A larger program will be held in Birmingham at the 16th Street Baptist Church where the stain glass window still stands.
The Rev. Arthur Price, pastor of the 16th Street church noted how lawmakers used biblical references in the words of hope they offered. Quoting from the New Testament he said “what man meant for evil, God meant for good.”
Braddock, a retired Prince George’s County elementary school principal, left Thursday to be in Birmingham on Sunday, the anniversary of the bombing.
Even all of these years later, Braddock said she still misses her sister.
“My family carried a heavy burden for years. It’s the type of pain that will never go away,” Braddock said. “In those days blacks and whites lived in a different world, we didn’t associate with each other. Today there is new awareness between blacks and whites.”
Sarah Collins Rudolph was one if the last people to leave Capitol Tuesday. On Sept 15, 1963, she suffered burns, broken bones and lost an eye in the blast that took the life of her sister Addie Mae Collins.
Despite her loss and injuries she forgave. “I had to forgive those people. Holding on to hate just keeps you sick and angry.”