On Sunday, September 15 of 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church was the site on a White Terrorist bombing, resulting in the deaths of four African American girls – Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair.
In addition to the four deaths, there were at least 22 other people who were injured from the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Eventually, there were four white men who were charged with the crimes, but legal proceedings didn’t begin until 1977, which only convicted one of the men who planted the bomb. Two of the other men were not charged (and subsequently found guilty) until 2001and 2002. The fourth man involved in the murder of the four girls died in 1994, before having been charged.
It is important to note that the 16th Street Baptist Church was a major place of organizing, especially in the spring of 1963, with student organizers and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference using the church as a base for their work. A powerful documentary of the church bombing, entitled 4 Little Girls, was directed by Spike Lee.
Grand Rapids marches in response to Birmingham church bombing
One week after the bombing that took place at the 16th Street Baptist Church, demonstrations and marches took place all around the country as a sign of collective morning against this act of terror.
The Grand Rapids Press reports that an estimated 3,000 marched from the Southeast part of Grand Rapids and ended up downtown in front of city hall.
You can see how the headline read, which reflected that even though the violence the march was commemorating was against black people and primarily organized by black people, the participation by White people merited the focus of the headline.
Those who organized the march had lined up people in rows of seven, mostly by organizational affiliation. The march was a silent march, only a few speeches and prayers were offered at the end, when the marchers had reached city hall.
Two things stood out to this writer, when reading the Grand Rapids Press article. First, the Rev. W. L. Patterson, with True Light Baptist Church, made this comment to the white people who marched that day. He said, “You have marched with us today, but please march with us tomorrow because we need jobs and places to live right here in Grand Rapids.”
Patterson’s comment made in clear that what the black community was asking the white community was for them to stand with them in the struggle for economic equality and housing justice, which the black community had been struggling to achieve, based on reports from the Urban League in 1940 and 1947, which we have cited in previous postings.
The second comment cited in the article that stood out was a comment from Rev. Hugh Michael Beahan, a Catholic priest. Beahan stated, “Those of us who are accidentally white must be a little careful about our righteous indignation. We should see if our hands are clean – maybe too clean because we never lifted a finger.” Essentially, Beahan was calling out his fellow white community members for not doing anything to fight against segregation, institutionalize racism and white supremacy.
The Grand Rapids Press article also states that the march was quiet and “never came close to getting out of hand.” Such an observation reflects the inherent bias of the Press reporter. You can read the entire article at this link.