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Remembering the Birmingham church bombing

Fifty-six years ago today, four precious little girls were murdered in one of the most heinous acts of white supremacist terror of the civil rights era.

At 10:21 a.m. CT on September 15, 1963, the girls were in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, preparing for the “Youth Sunday” service.

Addie Mae Collins and Carol Denise McNair were getting ready to sing in the choir. Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were going to be ushers.

One minute later, a dynamite bomb exploded. The girls were killed instantly, and more than 20 others were injured.

The Klansmen who planted the bomb wanted to terrorize the black community and their leaders, who had used the church as a meeting place, training ground and rallying point for the Birmingham Children’s Crusade and other direct actions.

Of course, the Klansmen were wrong about the impact. Perhaps more than any other event, the murders of the children while they attended church shamed the nation. Ten months later, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

And seven years after that, the Southern Poverty Law Center was born in large part to seek justice for those who had no champion and to enforce the Act in civil rights lawsuits.

Hate is nothing new. We’ve known this for centuries, and many of us have experienced it firsthand. But it is on a rise and we are seeing a surge of white nationalism and racist violence across the country.

The fear and resentment of our nation’s growing diversity is at the heart of the hate that’s swelling across America. We’ve seen it time and time again. In Charlottesville, Virginia. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In Poway, California. In El Paso, Texas.

We must reject those who continue to traffic in fear, hate and violence – and work together to bring in hope, equality and true justice.

Today, at 10:22 a.m. – regardless of where you are and what you’re doing – please pause and remember:

Addie Mae Collins, 14.

Denise McNair, 11.

Carole Robertson, 14.

Cynthia Wesley, 14.

And let’s recommit to carrying the torch for justice.