September 15th, 1963 is a day forever etched into Barbara Cross’ mind as the day that changed everything for her and her family. It was the day of the 16thStreet Baptist Church Bombing. Ku Klux Klan members had placed a bomb in the basement of the historically African American church earlier that morning. The bombing claimed the lives of four little girls: Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley.
Cross – whose father had been preaching at the church for just under a year at the time – gathered with dozens of people over the weekend for the 56th anniversary of the attack.
Cross shared with Christian Headlines that she returns to the 16thStreet Church each year on the anniversary of the bombing “to remember the lives that were taken.”
At this year’s anniversary service, dozens of people from across the country came to remember the lives lost including guest speaker, Former Vice President Joe Biden.
"The church bombing forced us to confirm the truth about ourselves as a nation that day," Biden said as he spoke over the packed room.
The former Vice President noted how the bombing highlighted the lack of racial equality in the nation, an issue that America is still struggling with today. “My mother had an old saying that one should walk a mile in her shoes to understand her.
“I can never fully understand, as a white man, racial inequality no matter how much I try,” he asserted.
"Rev. Cross never got to give his message, ‘love that forgives,’ that day, but it’s a message that is just as valid today as it was then,” Biden continued before asserting that “Hate not dealt with, never goes away."
Cross remembers her dad as a man who loved people and followed his calling to the 16th Street Baptist Church. "My dad was a man of courage," she said as she reflected fondly on the man who helped raise her.
Cross noted that her father took a strong stance on racial equality and even invited Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the church – a fact that many people believe made the church a target for violent racists.
Now, many of the invited speakers are still focusing on unity. At the anniversary event, many of the speakers noted that that day some 56 years ago, marked a shift in attitude and mindset on racial and civil rights issues in America. "Loss is always asking questions like what life would have been like had this event not occurred,” Biden pondered.
Despite the tragedy, there’s no question that life has continued at the 16th Street Baptist Church. As the guest speaker for the morning, Pastor Manning – of the influential Emmanuel AME church – eloquently stated: "you don't look like what you've been through.”
This year’s anniversary also marks the grand re-opening of the museum which highlights the four girls who were killed along with a history of the September 15thattack.
Photo courtesy: Maina Mwaura