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Remembering Birmingham’s four little girls

Stacy M. Brown | 9/20/2013, 6 a.m.
The four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. From left to right: Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, and Cynthia Wesley. Courtesy photo

“No matter who you are, or what color you are, when a kid is killed, it throws a different light on things,” said Tom Cherry, the son of one of the convicted bombers, told news reporters in Dallas, Texas, where he now resides.

James Lowe, now a bishop at the Guiding Light Church in Birmingham, attended the church the day of the bombing. Lowe says even some who once pushed back against the civil rights movement had a change of heart after the horrific incident. Now 61, Lowe was only 11-years-old at the time of the bombings. He says that the images remain fresh in his memory.

“I was in a Sunday school room two doors down from where the bomb was placed,” Lowe said. “I remember a loud deafening noise and seeing glass flying out from the windows. Instinctively, I turned my back and shielded my head with my arms and, from that moment on, I lost an awareness of my friends that were in the room. It was as if a dark cloud had enveloped me.”

Birmingham became Ground Zero for hate, the most segregated city in the south, according to Carolyn McKinstry, who recalled seeing the four girls just before the bombing.

“The phone was ringing as I climbed some steps and I went into the office and answered the phone and it was a male voice that said, ‘just three minutes,’ and hung up,” said 64-year-old McKinstry, the author of “While the World Watched.” “The bomb exploded and I heard the windows come crashing in. I was a little bit in shock. At the moment it exploded, I was trying to process what had happened. I was not familiar with death, the loss of kids, but the girls were gone and I knew I was never going to see them again.”