On September 15, 1963, a horrific bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama took the lives of four young women: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley.
Their deaths shocked the community and the nation and marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Ultimately, the aftermath of the bombing contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The church was targeted by a group of white supremacists who specifically wanted to harm African Americans and sow fear. Instead of provoking a race war, Birmingham Sunday rallied people from around the nation to support the civil rights cause, particularly white people who had been previously apathetic about racial justice.
The anniversary of Birmingham Sunday comes at a time when racist rhetoric is on the rise and terror and violence are once again being used by white supremacists in a vain attempt to beat back progress. In the wake of the terrorist attack in Charlottesville and other horrific events, it feels like we have been thrust into an earlier era. But then, as now, millions of people in our country stood up for justice. Today, in memory of those who paved the way for critical progress, we continue to demand: Not one step backward in the fight for racial equity. Our nation must continue to move forward and bend the arc of the universe towards justice.
The investigation of the Birmingham bombing was a textbook case of justice delayed and therefore denied-- in some aspects of the case, for many decades. We've come a long way, but our system is still inadequate. Today, black people are still fighting for equal justice under the law, for equal treatment by law enforcement, and for equity in our society.
These four young women were cut down in the prime of life. We are still losing young black members of our community who should have been part of our nation's future every day to wrongful, preventable deaths. We must still address systemic failures in economic justice, education access, the prison industrial complex, healthcare and environmental hazards among other critical issues. There's no time to lose.
See you out there in the fight.