A few days ago on September 15 was the 55th anniversary of one of the great tragedies of the modern civil rights movement. On that Sunday morning in 1963, a bomb planted by KKK members exploded beneath a stairway in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL killing four girls - Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. These precious children were preparing for to go to a worship service where the sermon was to be titled “A Love That Forgives.” Three days later on September 18 (55 years ago today), Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the eulogy at the funeral service for three of the girls. In that eulogy, Dr. King emphasized that God can redeem the most evil acts in ways that transform people’s hearts and minds:
And so my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city.
The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience.
Dr. King went on to challenge those suffering from that violent evil act not to respond in kind but to dare to believe that even those white people who perpetuated racism could be changed:
And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.
In the face that great tragedy and suffering 55 years ago, Dr. King called those people to actually believe and practice the way of Jesus. As we face division, racism, and acts of hatred in our time, Dr. King’s words and the lives of those four little girls still call us not only to believe in Jesus but to dare to live the way of Jesus. Posted below are some pictures from the park located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. The witness and legacy of the four little girls continues to touch the lives of thousands of people reminding us that hate can never defeat love.