Archive for the ‘Addie Mae Collins’ Tag

Feast of the Martyrs of Birmingham, Alabama, September 15, 1963 (September 15)   Leave a comment

Above:  Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, 1993

Photographer = Jet Lowe

Image Source = Library of Congress

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ADDIE MAY COLLINS (AGE 14)

CAROLE ROBERTSON (AGE 14)

CYNTHIA WESLEY (AGE 14)

DENISE MCNAIR (AGE 11)

Died in the basement of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, Sunday, September 15, 1963

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These children–unoffending; innocent and beautiful–were the victims of one of the most vicious, heinous crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.

–The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., September 18, 1963

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This feast comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997).

The city of Birmingham, Alabama, was notorious during the Civil Rights Movement.  There, from 1956 to 1963, the city earned its unfortunate nickname, “Bombingham,” due to the at least 28 unsolved racially motivated bombings.  In Birmingham, in 1963, authorities committed unjustifiable violence against peaceful protesters–many of them juveniles–when they sprayed them with water full-force (sufficient to break bones) from fire water hoses and sent dogs to attack protesters.  In Birmingham, in April 1963, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., sat in the jail and wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, one of the great texts of moral theology in the twentieth century.  And, on September 15, 1963, a few bombers committed a crime that claimed lives and shocked much of the world.

September 15, 1963, was to be Youth Day at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  Addie May Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, set aside to lead the 11:00 service, were excited.  They had left Sunday School early and gone to put on their white choir robes in the basement.  The new school year had begun; they were discussing that topic.  Upstairs, in a women’s Sunday School class, the topic of the lesson was “The Love that Forgives.”  Then, at 10:22, a bomb exploded in the basement, destroying the outside stone staircase, blowing a hole in the eastern façade of the building, injuring twenty people, and killing the four girls.

Moral revulsion at this act was global yet not universal.  The Vatican newspaper likened the bombing to a “massacre of the innocents.”  The bombing and the four deaths shocked even many of the most hardened segregationists.  In Birmingham that Sunday, however, the bombing inspired social violence–some of it fatal–by whites on African Americans who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The wrong place was Birmingham.

At the funeral three days later Dr. King condemned the crime and reminded the mourners that

God has a way of wringing good out of evil.

He also stated the necessity of being concerned with the system and society that produced those immediately responsible for the bombing.

King’s words remain relevant.  His speeches and writings have a simultaneously noble and unnerving quality, for they remain germane when we Americans, as a country, should have made more progress toward social justice.  In the context of 2015-2018 in the United States several factors alarm me.  The move of hateful rhetoric and policies, until recently usually relegated to whispers, coded speech, and unapologetically racist wing nuts on the Far Right into the mainstream of politics, but without the coded language, is sinful.  Many election results of recent years confirm this phenomenon.  Yet this period in U.S. history is not unique, the study of the past teaches me.  White supremacy is an indefensible American tradition.  It is as American as motherhood, apple pie, and

…all men are created equal….

Human depravity is, in my mind, a verified fact, not an article of faith.  I need no faith to believe that which I can prove objectively.

King still teaches us, if we listen.  The deaths of the four girls and the injuries of the twenty other people at the church on September 15, 1963, still teach us, if we listen.  Do we dare to listen to the lessons they impart?

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Loving God of the Incarnation, you identify with us in our joys and our sorrows.

We thank you for your holy children:  Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair.

We also mourn them, murdered in an act of racism, cruelty, and cowardice.

Burn out of us, we pray, all hatred for any of our fellow human beings, and cast out all prejudice that leads to bigotry.

We pray through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, an innocent man who died violently and unjustly.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 69:17-22

Psalm 37:1-13

Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 2:13-18

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, JR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMNODIST; AND HIS NEPHEW, JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, III, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH PAYSON PRENTISS, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JEREMY TAYLOR, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DOWN, CONNOR, AND DROMORE

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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