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'Love That Forgives': Four Girls Remembered on Anniversary of 1963 Church Bombing

16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

Sunday, Sept. 15, marked the 56th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church building in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Ku Klux Klan members had placed a bomb in the basement of the building earlier that morning. When it exploded, it took the lives of four young black girls – Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14 – the youngest victims of civil rights-era violence. It also changed the lives of their families forever.

Barbara Cross says that day is forever etched into her mind. Her father, Rev. John H. Cross, Jr., had been preaching for the church for just a year at the time of the bombing. 

Cross and hundreds of other people gathered at the historic church building over last weekend to remember that dreadful day, according to Christian Headlines.com

Cross told the website she returns to the church every year on the bombing's anniversary "to remember the lives that were taken."

People from across the country came to the church to remember the little girls too, including former Vice President Joe Biden who served as the guest speaker at the event.

"In a centuries-long campaign of violence, fear, trauma, brought upon black people in this country, the domestic terrorism of white supremacy has been the antagonist of our highest ideals since before the founding of this country," Biden told the packed audience.

"The church bombing forced us to confirm the truth about ourselves as a nation that day," Biden said

"Rev. Cross never got to give his message, 'love that forgives,' that day, but it's a message that is just as valid today as it was then," he noted. "Hate not dealt with, never goes away." 

Cross fondly remembers her father as a man who loved people. He passed away in November of 2007. 

 "My dad was a man of courage," she said of the man who dug through the rubble of his church looking for survivors and then presided over the girls' funerals. 

Cross added her father stood for racial equality and also invited Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak to the congregation. Some believe that made the church a target for the Klan. 

Despite the tragic event forever tied to the Birmingham church building, the congregation has endured and has moved forward. 

When Pastor Eric Manning of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, stood behind the podium to deliver the gospel message for the 16th Street Church's Sunday service, he began by saying, "You don't look like what you've been through." 

In 2006, the 16th Street Baptist Church building was declared a national historic landmark. In 2013, all four girls who were killed were awarded Congressional Gold Medals. That same year, a statue of the girls was unveiled at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham.

In 2016, the last living convicted bomber was denied parole. He won't be eligible again until 2021. 

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