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Churches Asked to Ring Bells in Remembrance of Little Girls Killed in Birmingham Church Bombing

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Lisa McNair has asked churches and other places of worship to ring their bells on the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing. McNair’s sister, 11-year-old Carol Denise McNair, was one of the four little girls killed in the 1963 racist attack. It also took the lives of 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.

“I am asking that each house of worship ring your bells at 10:22 a.m. on next Friday, September 15, 2023, which is 60 years since a bomb took the lives of my sister Denise and 3 other girls,” McNair requested, according to reporter Jerry Mitchell. “I would also like it if you can share with your congregations why you are honoring the lives of each girl.”

On September 15, 1963, McNair’s sister and the three other little girls were killed when a bomb exploded during Sunday services at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The children were in Sunday school.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative:

“In 1963, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was the largest Black church in Birmingham, Alabama, and served as a meeting place for civil rights activities. As demonstrations to desegregate public spaces and secure Black voting rights became more frequent and visible, meeting places like the church became targets for white segregationists looking to terrorize Black activists and their supporters.”

Three men were eventually charged for the murders: Robert Chambliss, a KKK leader; Bobby Frank Cherry; and Thomas Blanton. Chambliss had reportedly “planted 19 sticks of dynamite under the bathroom” of the church. The New York Daily News reported that “the explosion destroyed cars on the street outside and blew out stained glass windows nearly 100 feet away.”

About 20 other people were injured in the bombing, with one little girl losing an eye, according to History. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing had been the third bombing in less than two weeks on the heels of a federal court order making integrating Alabama’s school system mandatory.

16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama
16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo: Flickr CC/iamNigelMorris)

The 1963 Birmingham church bombing shocked the nation, as it was one of the deadliest events of the Civil Rights Movement. The bombing led to a wave of protests and helped galvanize support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

McNair says her request has been met with support, with one Jewish temple reportedly agreeing to blow a shofar in honor of the four little girls killed.

“Some churches have already agreed to do this,” Mitchell relayed in his tweet. “Those without a church bell are ringing hand bells in front of their buildings.”

Participating churches and other places of worship are asked to record their activity and share it on social media using the hashtag #4littlegirls.

McNair released a book in 2022 in honor of her sister, who was killed the year before she was born. The book, titled Dear Denise: Letters to the Sister I Never Knew, includes 40 letters McNair wrote to her dead sister.

Director Spike Lee released a documentary more than 20 years ago about the tragedy called “4 Little Girls.”

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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