September 15th, 1963. In Birmingham, Alabama, four men: fathers, brothers, uncles, met that Sunday morning, probably had a bit of breakfast, gassed up their car and headed for their destination, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
At about the same time, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, both 14, Denise McNair, 11, and Sarah Collins Rudolph, 12, and her sister Addie Mae Collins, 14 were getting dressed. They would all meet at their destination, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Pastor John Cross’s lesson for Sunday School was “A Love That Forgives.” Just after the beginning of Sunday School, the five men arrived, and did not enter the church. They went to the steps of the church, placed a package underneath and left. Within a short time the package exploded with tremendous force, ripping through the side of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Its force tore a huge part of the church out; scattered everything in its path.
The four men, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry, were not to be seen. Carole, Cynthia, Addie Mae and Denise lay dead among the rubble and Sarah Collins was seriously wounded, her injuries including the loss of one eye.
In the same place at the same time – four men – all members of the same club, so full of hate, so doing the devils work. Five innocent little girls, angels on loan from our Lord in Heaven joining together in his house.
These men, all members of the Ku Klux Klan would remain free for far too many years. Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and died in prison in 1985. Thomas Blanton was convicted in 2001 and is serving a life term. Bobby Cherry was convicted in 2002, and died two years later in prison serving a life term. Herman Cash was never convicted and died in 1994, never having served time for his deed.
Sarah Collins Rudolph testified against Thomas Blanton in his 2001 trial. Sarah said, “God spared me to live and tell just what happened on that day.” And yesterday, fifty years later, Sarah was at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to lay a wreath in remembrance.
At the 9:30 Sunday School session, the current pastor, Rev. Arthur Price, taught the lesson intended for September 15th, 1963: “A Love That Forgives.” And during the service yesterday, Julius Scrubbs of Huntsville, Alabama, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, said “God said you may murder four little girls, but you won’t murder the dream of justice and liberty for all.”
I wonder if those four little angels were remembered in other churches yesterday?