Anniversary of 16th Street Baptist Church attack is a reminder of struggle for Civil Rights

At 10:20 a.m. exactly 50 years ago today, a hate crime at the 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., carried out by white supremacists killed four African-American girls – three victims were 14 years old, the other was 11. They were headed with a group of more than a dozen other children to hear a sermon in the church basement while a bomb planted nearby detonated, causing the deaths, injuries, and severe damage to the church. Why a church, first of all, let alone that particular one? The 16th Street Baptist Church was where successful Civil Rights campaigning had happened all summer. In the week leading up to the attack, public schools in Birmingham and throughout the south had desegregated and the March on Washington a month earlier was one of the largest political rallies in United States history. Those opposed to racial desegregation masterminded the bombing and other attacks in Birmingham that year. However, the 16th Street Baptist Church incident led to more public support for desegregation efforts and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the fruit of the Civil Rights movement – was passed.

What primary sources about this anniversary might be of interest to researchers? One record found in ArchiveGrid describes a collection at the Alabama Department of Archives and History of 15 photographs taken at the church the day of the bombing. They were last used in 1977 and 1978 in court when those responsible were finally prosecuted. According to the finding aid, the photographs “…consist of interior and exterior scenes and include shots of emergency personnel.” Digitized photographs and other materials such as news, academic, and entertainment outputs related to the incident are available in an online exhibit through the Birmingham Public Library. Another interesting item a record in ArchiveGrid describes is a 1975 transcript of an oral history interview at University of Alabama about the bombing. Media access is restricted.

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