On Sept. 15, students, faculty, and staff from The University of Alabama School of Law attended the annual memorial service at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama for Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Morris Wesley who were killed when the church was bombed in 1963.
Members of the congregation, locals, and people who had traveled to Birmingham from around the country, gathered to pay respects to the four young girls who were murdered on that day fifty-eight years ago. Sarah Collins Rudolph, who survived the bombing but was blinded permanently as a result, also attended the memorial service to remember her sister, Addie Mae, and their friends.
The Carlton Reese Memorial Choir sang hymns and spirituals to begin the service and Reverend Arthur Price, Jr., pastor of the historic church, offered prayer. The congregation observed a moment of silence as bells tolled for each of the lives lost on of Sept. 15, 1963, including Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson who were killed by racist violence on the same day, and paid respects to their family members in attendance. Birmingham attorney Gaile Pugh Greene led a litany entitled “We Honor Your Names.”
Chicago pastor Dr. Charlie E. Dates preached the homily and spoke about the power of love in overcoming hate and grief. The Sunday School lesson on the day of the bombing was “A Love that Forgives,” and Dr. Dates urged the audience to summon the love they possess in remembrance of the four girls who were killed at 16th Street Baptist and honor them by spreading that love in the world.
In closing, a representative from the government of Wales, Erica Stevens, spoke about the history of the Wales Window, gifted by the people of Wales to the 16th Street Baptist Church to replace the stained glass window that was damaged in the bomb blast.
Following Stevens’s remarks, the congregation stepped outside of the church to lay a memorial wreath at the site of the explosion. After the memorial service, members of the Alabama Law community returned to Tuscaloosa for a reflective discussion with Lisa McNair, whose sister Denise was killed in the church bombing, led by third year law student Brenita Softley, President of the Black Law Students Association at Alabama Law.