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Reconstruction Period Research Forum

Where History Turned the Corner

Saving the place where history turned the corner
Birmingham church needs to keep the past but rebuild for future
Monday, September 27, 2004
Times Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM - The basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is filled with the smells of the buffet dinner and cake that will be served later on a recent Wednesday.

The Rev. Arthur Price Jr., the 16th Street pastor since 2001, expects about 500 people to fill the sanctuary for a ceremony that will observe the 41st anniversary of the bombing of the church.

About 200,000 people visit here each year, church leaders say, some of them from Australia, South Africa and India.

World leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, have come here to examine the legacy of the church.

"I'm surprised at how many countries look at Birmingham as a paradigm to shift injustice to justice," Price said.

But now, the church, built in 1909, has structural damage. The foundation, Price said, is suffering from age and the effects of the 1963 explosion.

That's why the church is trying to raise more than $3 million for repairs.

"Today, we're in a state of rebuilding, a state of renewal," Price said.

History and hate

The bombing on the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, killed four young girls, three of them teenagers, and critically injured another girl, 10. The girls had gathered in the women's restroom after Bible classes, talking excitedly about the opening days of school.

Then 22 sticks of dynamite exploded.

The bomb was planted under an outdoor stairwell on the east side of the church, then considered the most elite of Birmingham's 255 black churches. The explosion crumbled the stone and brick walls.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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