Alabama city to remember historic church bombing 50 years later

Wed Sep 11, 2013 3:11pm EDT
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By Verna Gates

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - The image of 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley's decapitated body buried in the exploded rubble of a Baptist church here has haunted her brother, Fate Morris, for five decades.

"I should have died with her," said Morris, who was 11 when the bomb set off by Ku Klux Klan members killed four young girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.

It is a memory neither Morris nor the town of Birmingham, Alabama, can erase - a tragic chapter in a violent era that ultimately led to the end of the segregation of blacks in public places such as restaurants and schools.

This week, a series of events leading up to the bombing's 50th anniversary on Sunday will commemorate the lives of the girls and the sweeping societal changes sparked by their deaths with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and Carole Robertson, all 14, and 11-year-old Denise McNair perished in the blast that happened just before Sunday School classes were to start, in a town that was the epicenter for an escalating national divide over civil rights.

"It is a sad story, but there is a joy that came out of it," said Sarah Collins Rudolph, bomb survivor and sister of victim Addie Mae Collins.

Speakers this week include Birmingham native Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting on Friday.

Rice was an 8-year-old in Birmingham when her friend, Denise McNair, was killed in the blast.   Continued...