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Facts About The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing That Ushered In The Civil Rights Movement

The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing occurred in Birmingham, AL, on September 15, 1963. Four young girls were killed in the blast: 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Carol Denise McNair. Addie Mae's sister Sarah was blinded in one eye; an estimated 22 people in total were wounded. The victims were all African American.

The perpetrators of the violent attack were members of the KKK. The bombing became a catalyst for the then-growing civil rights movement of the 1960s, which led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the desegregation of much of the Southern United States. The church bombing in Birmingham was a heinous act that killed innocent girls, all of whom were posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medals in 2013.

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  • The Bombers Placed Sticks Of Dynamite Under The Church's Steps
    Photo: Bettmann/Contributor / Bettmann/Getty Images

    The Bombers Placed Sticks Of Dynamite Under The Church's Steps

    The bomb was put into place in time for it to go off right before that Sunday's church service began. The bombers placed 15 sticks of dynamite attached to a timer beneath the building's steps - close to the basement, where Sunday school would be held that morning.

    The bomb went off at 10:22 am, causing mass confusion and panic. Four girls were killed, and at least 22 attendees were injured. The event left Birmingham terrified and scrambling.

  • Four Young Girls Were Killed
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    Four Young Girls Were Killed

    Four girls were killed in the explosion; they were in the basement of the church. The four who lost their lives that day were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair. Addie Mae, Cynthia, and Carole were 14, while Carol Denise was 11. Addie Mae's sister Sarah was also with them, but she survived the blast.

    In 2013, all four girls were posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilian honor given by the US government.

  • The Bombing Took Place In 1963, But No One Was Prosecuted For It Until 1977
    Photo: Thomas J. O'Halloran / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Bombing Took Place In 1963, But No One Was Prosecuted For It Until 1977

    The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing took place in 1963, and even though the FBI named suspects, none were prosecuted for the attack until 1977. Part of this was because witnesses were afraid to come forward, and most of the physical evidence was destroyed in the explosion. It likely didn't help that J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the FBI, wasn't fond of the civil rights movement.

    In 1976, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the case and began prosecuting the bombers the following year.

  • It Was The Third Church Bombing In 11 Days
    Photo: Marion S. Trikosko / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It Was The Third Church Bombing In 11 Days

    Violence broke out in Birmingham as the civil rights movement continued and African American leaders called for desegregation. The 16th Street Baptist Church was the third predominantly African American church bombed in 11 days.

    Earlier that same year, the motel that Martin Luther King Jr. stayed at - the Gaston Motel - was bombed, as was the home of King's brother, A.D. King. The Birmingham home of NAACP attorney Arthur Shores was firebombed on both August 20 and September 4, 1963.

    It was a dangerous time to be in Birmingham, but civil rights advocates persisted.

  • Four Members Of The KKK Were Implicated In The Bombing
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    Four Members Of The KKK Were Implicated In The Bombing

    The FBI launched an investigation into the bombing immediately after it took place. Four men were implicated in the bombing: Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss, and Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. All were known white supremacists and part of the Ku Klux Klan.

    All four culprits were members of the Cahaba River Group, a faction of the extremely violent Eastview Klavern #13 chapter of the KKK.

  • More Than 8,000 People Attended The Girls' Funeral Service
    Photo: Burton McNeely - TLP/Contributor / The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

    More Than 8,000 People Attended The Girls' Funeral Service

    On September 18, 1963, a public funeral service was held for Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Diane Wesley, and Carol Denise McNair. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the service, which was attended by more than 8,000 people.

    Carole Robertson's family held a private funeral service for her.