16th Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Alabama)
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing occurred on September 15, 1963, when four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite beneath the steps on the east side of the church. The explosion killed four young black girls and injured 22 others.
“One of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity” charged an emotional Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although the FBI concluded in 1965 that the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing had been committed by four known Ku Klux Klansmen —Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss, and Bobby Frank Cherry. None of the suspects came to trial until 1977.
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In 1963, the City of Birmingham had no black police officers or firefighters, and few of the city’s black residents were registered to vote. Bombings at black institutions were a regular occurrence. Birmingham had seen at least 21 separate explosions at black properties and churches in the eight years before 1963.
The African American 16th Street Baptist Church had become a rallying point for civil rights activities through the spring of 1963, and became the location where students who were arrested during the 1963 Birmingham campaign’s Children’s Crusade had been organized and trained by Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Director of Direct Action, James Bevel. The church was also used as a meeting-place for other civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph and David Abernathy. When the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Congress on Racial Equality became involved in a campaign to register African-Americans to vote in Birmingham, the segregationist white community became enraged. The church became a target for white supremacists.
Kelly Ingram Park
Kelly Ingram Park is located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. The park has been referred to as “ground zero” for the large-scale demonstrations that took place their during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.
In May 1963, Reverend James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a large student protest by students in 1963 in Kelly Ingram Park. Birmingham police and firemen, under orders from Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, confronted the students with violence: mass arrests, clubs, police dogs, and fire hoses.
Media coverage of the confrontations sparked a public outrage which focused the nations’ attention on the inequities and atrocities of segregation in America. These demonstrations and protests would resonate strongly within the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.