Learning the Lesson of the Birmingham Church Bombing

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The scene in the aftermath of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, Sept. 16, 1963

The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Sunday, September 15, 1963, when the bomb went off in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham, I was only five-years-old about to turn six in October. My family lived just 15 miles northeast of the church in the suburbs, but oddly, I have no specific recollection of the events of that day.

I do remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which came a little more than two months later on November 22, 1963, but only because I remember the black and white footage on our RCA television set in the den of our home. We ate dinner every night on a kitchen table positioned so we could watch the CBS News at precisely 5:30 p.m. Central Time.

There was local news at 5 in those days, so is it possible the news of the church bombing was not broadcast that day? Or since it was on a Sunday, perhaps my family was attending Sunday night training school and missed the news? This must be the reason.

We did subscribe to The Birmingham News, although the conservative Newhouse paper did not go out of its way to cover the civil rights movement in those days, catering instead to white, conservative readers in the suburbs.

In looking back now to see some of the better coverage archived online, I found this report from UPI the next day in the Washington Post.

Where was I on May 22, 2002, the day a Jefferson County jury found Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry guilty of murder for the bombing? That’s easier. I was in the courtroom in Birmingham, and had lunch with prosecuting U.S. Attorney Doug Jones and New York Times correspondent Rick Bragg at John’s Restaurant on Nineteenth Street.

I was living in New Orleans at the time, and had just finished my second year of teaching journalism at Loyola University. I was free-lancing for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and helping the Times.

On the 54th anniversary of the bombing, Jones is running for the United States Senate in a special election to replace Jeff Sessions, who Trump appointed as his attorney general.

“I urge Americans, Alabamians and their leaders to stand up to hate,” Jones said on the anniversary. “Today’s anniversary is a time to remember, and a time to reflect on where we are today and where we’re going in the future.”

He released a video of him speaking about the trial on YouTube and Facebook.

And he talked about the continuation of the struggle for civil rights today.

“Over the past month, we’ve seen the purveyors of hatred and division rear their ugly heads in Charlottesville and around the country,” Jones said. “That is not who we are. America is a nation of laws, justice, equality and opportunity and we must push back against those who threaten those fundamental American values. It would dishonor the memory of those four innocent girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, for the United States to turn back to those dark days.”

DJ 16 memorial (head down)

U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones attends 54th anniversary service of the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church

Meanwhile, Jones’ likely opponent in the general election in December, former Judge Roy Moore, was being quoted on CNN about another anniversary, September 11, 2001.

He is such a sensational idiot that he suggested the terrorist attacks might have happened because the U.S. had distanced itself from God.

So how does he feel about the church bombing in Birmingham? We may never know, because no news reporters have ever asked, and he’s never volunteered any commentary on that. Presumably he believes his trusty King James Bible justifies the enslavement of African-Americans, and believes because of his skin color, he’s one of god’s own chosen people.

So the choice for Alabama voters could not be any more clear.

In training school in the second largest Baptist Church in Alabama, and later at the University of Alabama, I learned about the role of the Baptist Church in promoting the separation of church and state.

“Separation of church and state is one of the primary theological distinctions of the Baptist tradition,” according to the Wikipedia page on the Baptists in history of separation of church and state.

The author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the authors of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, exchanged letters with the Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut in 1801 and made clear the doctrine of the ”wall of separation” or “strict separationism.”

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State,” Jefferson wrote.

Either Judge Roy Moore never learned that lesson, or he has forgotten it, as has those who support his bid for public office today.

Doug Jones, on the other hand, understands the issue and will be a much better representative of the people of Alabama and the country in the U.S. Senate.

Where will you be on December 12, 2017?

Hopefully in a voting booth somewhere in Alabama casting your ballot for Doug Jones. I will be back in Mobile on the Gulf Coast by then, where I will be forced against my will to cast my vote in a church. No wonder people don’t remember their history. We should not be voting in churches.

But in this election, I will be there, casting my vote for Doug Jones.

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

  1 comment for “Learning the Lesson of the Birmingham Church Bombing

  1. James Rhodes
    September 17, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    During the times of the Montgomery Freedom Rides, local press indicated the “outside Communist agitators opposed to states rights” got what they deserved. As a matter of fact anyone, during this era, who supported human rights was considered to be a “Communist”; free thinkers and those who questioned the oppressive social norms were labeled “Communist sympathizers” and this carried horrible economic and political consequences. Equally offensive, during this time, was being a Catholic; therefore when JFK was assassinated some people I knew actually threw parties and so-called “Christians” rejoiced at the murder of the “anti-Christ.” In central Alabama during the time of the 16th Street bombings-deafening silence as blacks (who really weren’t people) allegedly carried the “curse of Cain” (being of dark color)-have WE really changed?

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