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Ringing church bells in Birmingham commemorated civil rights history

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that galvanized the civil rights movement. To commemorate, churches across the city rang their bells at 10:22 in the morning, the time the bomb detonated and killed four young Black girls. Maya Miller of the Gulf States Newsroom spoke with visitors who came to honor their memory.

MAYA MILLER, BYLINE: Hundreds gathered inside of 16th Street Baptist Church and at the neighboring park beneath a canopy of clouds to listen to a memorial service for the girls killed in 1963. This marks the first time that multiple places of worship in downtown Birmingham participated in the commemoration by ringing their bells. Sharon Banks, a Birmingham native, says she grew up visiting 16th Street Baptist Church. The morning of the bombing, she remembers hearing the commotion and phones ringing nonstop as word spread that the church had been attacked. She says although there's been progress, the scourge of racism persists.

SHARON BANKS: And what bothers me more than anything else is we still - there are people who still have so much hatred, so much prejudice that people still are being ridiculed because of the color of their skin. It makes me wonder if we will overcome. That has become my question. My pastor has challenged me on that, but I sometimes wonder, will we really overcome?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELL RINGING)

BEATRICE GUYTON: My name is Beatrice Guyton. When I heard the bells, for me, it just signified the need for us to rise up and don't forget about the harm that hate causes.

MILLER: Guyton says it's important to remember the blood shed to ensure greater equality and opportunities that many have today.

GUYTON: It rests on the shoulders of those who went through some very hard times and unfair times - and that even though you may go through those hard and difficult times, you can persevere. And you can make it with God being in front.

MILLER: Pamela Barrow says that while church bombings are not common today, Black people still live under the burden of racist systems. For her, it's hard to be at peace with progress.

PAMELA BARROW: We don't know the future. So I'm hoping and praying it never happens. But sometimes, when you see so many of these shootings and police brutality and things like that, you know, you wonder, will it happen again?

MILLER: All over Birmingham, bells resounded at the time of the bombing, 10:22 a.m. Some rang out four times - one for each girl killed - others 60 times, one for each year since their deaths. For NPR News, I'm Maya Miller in Birmingham, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maya Miller