Thursday, September 15, 2011

On This Day in History: Four Girls Murdered in Birmingham Church Bombing

A further commemoration (I'm building here on my previous posting today): as the New York Times reminded readers of its web edition today, on this day in 1963 four African-American girls were killed in Birmingham, Alabama, when members of the Ku Klux Klan placed a bomb in the sanctuary of their church, 16th Street Baptist church, and it exploded, killing them.

The four girls killed were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair.  If I ever knew their names, I had forgotten them, and I set myself the task today, after having read the notice in the Times, of doing research and finding their names.  

Because these four little girls whose lives were ended tragically young need to be remembered.  And they need to be remembered as specific individuals with specific names.  

We Americans have a woefully short historic memory.  And to the extent that we let ourselves forget, we also let ourselves off the hook--off the hook of historical responsibility.

The Birmingham bombings happened in my own lifetime.  I was thirteen years old at the time.  I cannot honestly say that I recall the bombings with any specificity, though I seem always to have known that they happened.  The memory from that period of time that is much more sharply engraved in my memory is the memory of President Kennedy a few months later.

In some ways, we have come a long way since 1963.  But we still have a long, long way to go, before we can call ourselves a humane or just society in which every human being has an equal chance at fulfilling his or her human potential.  And I commit myself to remember where I have come from on this day of memory, as a precondition to charting the course of my future--towards greater human decency and greater concern for every other person on the globe.

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