On this day in 1963, a bomb made of fifteen sticks of dynamite is planted in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It explodes during Sunday morning services, killing four young girls.
Their names were Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins (all 14 years old), and Denise McNair (11).
Birmingham endured three church bombings in the eleven days since a federal order to integrate Alabama’s school system. As a result, the city earned the lamentable moniker “Bombingham.”
Then, on September 18th, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eulogized the girls in front of more than 8,000 mourners. Here are a few portions of that powerful tribute:
“This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God… .They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.
Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.
God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive.
I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity’s affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.
Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.
And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. …They died between the sacred walls of the church of God, and they were discussing the eternal meaning of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations.”
Also on this day, in 1857, President William Howard Taft is born in Cincinnati, Ohio
Taft was president from 1909 to 1913. He closed his inaugural address by “invok[ing] the considerate sympathy and support of my fellow-citizens and the aid of the Almighty God in the discharge of my responsible duties.”
Then, in 1921 he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Warren Harding. As such, Taft is the first and only former president to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Finally, he famously said:
“I love judges, and I love courts. They are my ideals, that typify on earth what we shall meet hereafter in heaven under a just God.”