Fifty years ago today, a Ku Klux Klan bomb at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., killed four black girls and sent shock waves throughout the country.
In Birmingham, the tragedy laid bare a deep rift.
Carolyn McKinstry, standing on the sidewalk outside 16th Street Baptist Church, remembers arriving for worship 50 years ago.
“It was youth day,” she says. “We were excited because that meant we got to do everything. We sang, we ushered, we did everything.”
Some of her Sunday school classmates had gone to the ladies’ room to freshen up.
“They were combing hair. No doubt they were excited about the fact it was youth Sunday. Girls just like to talk and primp, you know.”
McKinstry says it was 10:15 when the bomb went off.
“People screamed. Glass was crashing in. And I heard someone say, ‘Hit the floor!'”
Later she learned that her classmates in the restroom — Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins — were killed, and Addie Mae’s sister Sarah was seriously wounded.
Ever since, McKinstry, now a minister, says she’s been on a lifelong journey to fight fear and find reconciliation.