Maggie: Fifty years ago, a tragic event took the lives of four young, innocent girls. Today, Americans across the country are remembering an important milestone in the Civil Rights movement.
It was half a century ago, but the memory and the pain are still fresh. On Sunday, September 15th, 1963, Ku Klux Klan members hid 122 sticks of dynamite beneath the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Bishop Calvin Woods: It was pandemonium. You could smell the smoke. You could see the bricks laying around. And we didn’t know that the children had been killed at first. It was a good while before that news even got out.
Maggie: It was a Sunday, and children inside were preparing to pray. At 10:22 AM, the bomb was set off and four girls, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley, were killed in the explosion, and several more were injured.
Sarah Collins-Rudolph was ten years old and was in the bathroom with the four victims when the bomb exploded.
Sarah Collins-Rudolph: That is when I heard a sound go boom! It was so loud.
Maggie: One of the girls who was killed was her sister, fourteen-year-old Addie Mae Collins.
The bombing of the 16th Street Church was the third bombing in eleven days, after a federal court order forced the integration of the Alabama school system. Outrage grew over the deaths of the four innocent girls and would help to lead the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Last week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill formally awarded the four girls Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.
In Montgomery, Jahmila Muhammad sang during a memorial service to honor the girls.
Jahmila Muhammad: It was much different from the years that were behind us. Caucasian children, any type of mixed children, and black children can finally, you know, merge and get along. I think that’s awesome.
Maggie: And over the weekend, the city of Birmingham unveiled a bronze statue dedicated to the memory of the four girls.
President Obama also issued a statement, calling that day fifty years ago a ‘defining moment in the Civil Rights movement.’