The Day The Children Died
Kyle Smith Gail Cameron Wescott in Birmingham and David Cobb Craig in New York City Photographs by Ann States/SABA SUNDAY SCHOOL HAD JUST LET OUT, and Sarah Collins Cox, then 12, was in the basement with her sister Addie Mae, 14, and Denise McNair, 11, a friend, getting ready to attend a youth service. "I remember Denise asking Addie to tie her belt," Cox, now 46, says in a near whisper, recalling the morning of Sept. 15, 1963. "Addie was tying her sash. Then it happened." A savage explosion of 19 sticks of dynamite stashed under a stairwell ripped through the northeast corner of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. "I couldn't see anymore because my eyes were full of glass - 23 pieces of glass," says Cox. "I didn't know what happened. I just remember calling, 'Addie, Addie.' But there was no answer. I don't remember any pain. I just remember wanting Addie." That afternoon, while Cox's parents comforted her at the hospital, her older sister Junie, 16, who had survived the bombing unscathed, was taken to the University Hospital morgue to help identify a body. "I looked at the face, and I couldn't tell who it was," she says of the crumpled form she viewed. "Then I saw this little brown shoe - you know, like a loafer - and I recognized it right away." Addie Mae Collins was one of four girls killed in the blast. Denise McNair; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14, also died, and another 22 adults and children were injured. Meant to slow the growing civil rights movement in the South, the racist killings, like the notorious murder of activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi three months earlier, instead fueled protests that helped speed passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. "The bombing was a pivotal turning point," says Chris Hamlin, the current pastor of the Sixteenth Street church, whose modest basement memorial to the girls receives 80,000 visitors annually. Birmingham - so rocked by violence in the years...
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