Sixteenth Street church true national landmark
Addie Mae Collins was 14, so were Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley when they died along with 11-year-old Denise McNair at Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Sept. 15, 1963, began as a much-welcomed, quiet, late-summer Sunday as the young black girls, dressed in their "Youth Sunday" best prepared to lead the 11 a.m. service.
The explosion sickened America. It was the 21st such explosion in Birmingham in eight years and the third one in 11 days as the Ku Klux Klan claimed more victims in its terror campaign for racial superiority.
On Monday, the church built in 1911, and the center of life for Birmingham's black citizens, became a national landmark.
Some 400 people filled the church that morning in 1963 as the 80 or so children got ready for the monthly Youth Fellowship Day.
The bombing went unsolved for decades even though a whisper campaign pointed toward three white men, the last one convicted in 2002.
The church sits across the street from the impressive Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which includes a first-class museum that captures the civil rights struggle in Alabama.
Anyone wishing to experience events that led to that day the young girls died may tour the museum, then walk across the street and enter the church to relive the awful episode in Alabama history.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the church "a catalyst for the cause of justice" as he participated in the Monday ceremony.
The church isn't a landmark that makes all of us proud to be Alabamians, but it is the place where the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched his campaign against Birmingham as the "symbol of hardcore resistance to integration."