The Birmingham Church Bombing

Birmingham Church BombingToday, 45 years ago, four little black girls were killed in the Birmingham church bombing.

Those were the days when black people could buy things at the stores, but they couldn’t use the restrooms, or sit at the lunch counters, or get a job at the cash register behind the counter, or drink from the push button drinking fountain. The ubiquitous signs said, “Whites Only.”

This was the South I grew up in. So I pause to think about it again. And pray and thank God for mercy.

In March, 1963, Bob Dylan’s song, "Blowin’ in the Wind," sung by Peter, Paul and Mary, bumped “Puppy Love” from the top of the charts.

How many years must a people exist,
before they’re allowed to be free?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind,
The answer is blowing in the wind.

The answer was: No more.

It was a costly revolution.

That Sunday, September 15, inside the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, four young girls had snuck out of bible class and were talking in the basement ladies room. They were dressed in white from head to toe because this was the church’s annual Youth Day and they had a special role in the 11 o’clock service. Suddenly a blast shook the building, and showered everyone inside with debris. The air filled with shouts, then moans, then sirens.

Maxine McNair searched desperately for her daughter. She found her father crying in the rubble. “She’s dead, baby,” he said, “I’ve got one of her shoes.” Looking at the horror on his daughter’s face made him yell out, “I’d like to blow this whole town up.” Ten-year-old Sarah Collins staggered out of the hole in the outer wall. She was partially blinded, and bleeding from her nose and ears. Twenty others had been injured and were taken to the University Hospital.

In the ruins of the church basement, the four girls in white were found dead: Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carol Robertson–ages 11 to 14. (source)

Lord, forbid that we—we white and black and all Americans—would waste what they paid for. Jesus did not die for nothing and he does not permit death to happen to others for nothing. His death saves from sin and hell. And the death of those we love saves us from seeking hope anywhere but in him.

Update from Noel Piper: If you want to know more about this tragedy, "4 Little Girls" is a helpful documentary.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.