Today the church remembers with sadness and indignation a group of young saints martyred on the altar of racism and white supremacy: Saints Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair.
These young women, all under the age of fifteen, were killed when Robert Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Cash, and Thomas Blanton stuck dynamite under the steps of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on this day in 1963. As Sunday School was beginning, the bomb went off and they were martyred while walking to learn about the Prince of Peace, himself a man of color.
In that blast, twenty others were injured.
The courts found Chambliss, Cherry, Cash, and Blanton not guilty of murder, but fined them $100 and gave them six months in jail because they illegally possessed dynamite, making a laughing stock of not only the legal system, but of every Alabama courthouse emblazoned with “In God We Trust.”
Ten years later, in 1973, the case was retried for this bombing, and they did eventually receive a life sentence. Regardless, Saint Addie Mae, Saint Carole, Saint Cynthia, and Saint Denise would not get a second chance at life, no matter how many years pass.
The public funeral for these saints was attended by 8,000 mourners, but no public officials in Alabama thought fit to have their face seen there.
These young saints are a reminder for me, and should be for all humanity, that we are not so many years removed from this tragedy to take for granted that people are safe regardless of their race.
If you drive from Raleigh to Asheville you pass by two Confederate battle flags the size of Buicks on route 40. They are lit up at night as a reminder for every driver on that stretch of land that bombs are liable to be found under every staircase when in the hands of racist, hateful people.
Indeed, sometimes it still feels like 1963.
-historical bits gleaned from Clairborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals