The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama is very rich in history, and most of it is not good.
A predominantly black church, it was the site of bombings during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.
In 1963, the Church was the target of a racially motivated bombing by white Supremacists that killed four young and innocent black girls.
Happening in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, it was one of the most horrific of all the events that occurred during these turbulent years,
The church itself is located in the Civil Right Institute District, at 1530 6th Avenue North, just off of old U.S. highway 78.
The church is still fully operational, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
It has also, since the year 2008, been on the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was organized as the very first colored Baptist church in the city of Birmingham, in the year 1873.
The actual first meeting of the church was held in a very small building located at 12th Street and 4th Avenue in Birmingham.
A site for the church was acquired on 3rd Avenue North between 19th and 20th Street, for an actual dedicated building in 1880.
However, the same year the church sold the property and built a new church on its present site on 16th and 6th avenue north.
The new brick building was completed and was under the direction and supervision of the pastor, William R. Pettiford.
However, in the year 1908, the city condemned the building and ordered it to be torn down.
The present building is a modified Romanesque and Byzantine design that was designed by the prominent black architect Wallace Rayfield.
It was constructed in 1911 by a black contractor named T.C. Windham, for a cost of $26,000.
In addition to its main sanctuary, it also has a basement auditorium that is used for meetings, and several ancillary rooms that are used on Sundays.
During the turbulent civil right movement of the 1960’s, the church served as an organizational headquarters
This is what was believed to have opened it up for an attack by white supremacists.
It was also the site of mass meetings, as well as a rallying point for African Americans that were protesting widespread racism in Birmingham.
The reverends of the church at the time, Fred Shuttlesworth were also a local chief organizer of meetings, and James Bevet, was a SCLC leader.
Martin Luther King Jr. was also a frequent speaker at the church.
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, three members of the Ku Klux Klan placed 19 sticks of dynamite outside the basement.
At exactly 10:22 AM they exploded, killing four young and innocent girls.
Their names were Addie Mae Collis, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair.
The bomb also injured 22 other people, as they were preparing for the church’s “Youth Day”.
A funeral for three of the four victims was attended by over 8,000 people including both black and white, but there were no city officials present.
During this time frame there was a string of over 45 bombings within a 10-year period, and the neighborhood of Dynamite Hill was the most frequently targeted.
However, this bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church finally brought in Federal involvement, and it was not long before arrests were made, and they stopped.
In 1964, one year later, President Lyndon Johnson passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 the Voting Rights act was passed.
This law put a stop to the racist literacy tests and poll taxes.
Right after the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church, more than $300,000 in unsolicited gifts were received by the church, and it reopened on June 7, 1964.
On June 16, 1976, the Church was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage
On September 17, 1980, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Because of its historic value at a national level, the 16th Street Baptist Church was officially designated a National Historic Landmark on February 20, 2006, by the U.S Department of Interior.
As a member of the Birmingham Civil Rights District, the church receives about a quarter of million annual visitors.
Across the street from the church at the Kelly Ingram Park, is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Because of its history and significance, it has become of the most popular of the Birmingham day trips.
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