On the anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing

September 15th, 2017

Fifty-four years ago today, four black girls were killed when Ku Klux Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Say their names with me:

Addie Mae Collins, age 14
Denise McNair, age 11
Carole Robertson, age 14
Cynthia Wesley, age 14

One girl, Addie Mae's sister Sarah Collins Rudolph, survived the blast but was severely injured and long forgotten. Say her name, too.

This act of white supremacist terrorism resonates across the years. In 2017, white supremacy still rears its violent head. Its roar echoes in the halls of our government, from the pews and pulpits of our churches, down the halls of our schools and offices, across the streets of our neighborhoods. We have failed to confront it. We have failed to answer the cries from the rubble of 16th Street, from the graveplaces of those four girls. We have failed to extinguish white supremacy’s licking flames with what we know to be true: God is love, and love demands more of us. How fiercely we have ignored those demands. May God hear our confession and have mercy.

We must also confess that as a country we have actively empowered this evil. For proof, look no further than the newspaper. Every day a new story breaks bearing the stain of this national affliction: pastors, politicians, police, teachers… no social or civil sector has been left untouched. It is no secret that the sounds boom louder this year; we’re reading about and dealing with neo-Nazis and white supremacists as much today as we have in decades. It’s also no accident; the smallest embers nestled under ashes can reignite when stoked. When not doused properly in the first place.

Ashes should be on our mind. For any of us who refuse to confess our own hateful ways, who hear racist remarks from our family and friends and do not speak up, who ignore the discriminating words or practices of a politician and vote for them anyway because only one box is acceptable to check, who repeat “if they would just comply, they wouldn’t be hurt,” who mock and scorn the protest of the marginalized yearning to be heard, who value “history” over the pain of their neighbor (even though history lives in books and museums while honor is signified by statues)… for us, today is a day of sackcloth and ashes. Many days are.

If you read nothing else today beyond these words, let it be those of Eugene Patterson, whose editorial for the Atlanta Constitution ran the day after the bombing. Read it, and reckon. And reckon. And reckon.

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