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Grief, rage hang over church blast scene

By
WILLIAM K. HANDEL
The four girls killed during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963. Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Denise McNair, 11. Photo via Wikipedia
The four girls killed during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963. Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Denise McNair, 11. Photo via Wikipedia

BIRMINGHAM, Ala, Sept. 15, 1963 (UPI) They stumbled coughing and crying from the terror of the bomb, the stone and plaster dust in their eyes, down the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

"A church, they bombed our church," cried a Negro woman.

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Sirens shut out the cries of the Negro churchgoers pouring into the street as police officials and ambulances rounded Kelly-Ingram Park.

The stone dust was still settling from the dynamite blast that took four lives as police and Negro ambulance attendants ran down what once were basement steps at the church now covered with rubble.

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"My baby is in there. She was putting on her robes; she's in there," a Negro man screamed and tried to run into the church. He was held back by police officers.

The smell of gunpowder was strong and the crowd panicky as police officers began throwing up ropes around the church.

The old redbrick Neo-Romanesque church, with its tall stained glass windows, once the pride of the congregation, looked like a war scene.

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At the rear of the church basement there was an ugly hole which hours before was a door. Two cars sitting just outside the church were shattered wrecks. One had a door caved into the backseat from a chunk of stone, and holes big as footballs pierced it.

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Other debris was hurled across the street, and amid the watermelon-sized stones was a twisted handrail for what once were steps. About 10 other cars with windows, hoods and roofs smashed were crazily parked where the blast had blown them.

They brought out the first shrouded body of a little girl and the crowd went wild.

"Let me look, I think it's my sister," said one Negro. They let him look.

"This is my sister, and she's dead," he said. The head was severed from the body. The young man was led to the same ambulance.

The crowd, minutes before inside the church for a Sunday School lesson on "the Love that Forgives," was a solid face of hate.

"Let me at 'em, I'll kill 'em. I'll kill those whites," a man shouted. Other cries borne of bewilderment, sorrow and hate came from the crowd, aimed at the clump of white policemen, firemen and newsmen by the church.

Another body, and almost immediately, two more, came from the church under white sheets.

Rev. Charles Billups and the church pastor, Rev. John Cross, got on police megaphones. Cross began the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father who art in Heaven..."

"Go home and pray for the men who did this evil deed," said Billups. "We must have love in our hearts for these men."

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