A Tragic Anniversary Highlights A Moral Imperative To Protect Voting Rights
By Marc H. Morial
President & CEO, National Urban League
Addie Mae Collins. Carol Denise McNair. Carole Robertson. Cynthia Wesley.
Fifty-two years ago this week, their lives were taken in what Martin Luther King, Jr., called one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.
The girls were just 14, except Carol McNair, who was only 11.
Bombings were an almost routine occurrence in Birmingham in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with 21 separate blasts at black institutions and churches over eight years. September 15, 1963 was the first that resulted in death.
Why were the churches of Birmingham â€“ specifically the 16th Street Baptist Church â€“ targeted for this violence? Churches have been the center of black cultural life throughout American history, but in the Civil Rights Era, they often served as the nerve centers for organizing and activism. A few months before the bombing, the 16th Street Baptist Church had been the gathering point for the Childrenâ€™s Crusade which brought to the world the horrifying images of peacefully demonstrating students being blasted with firehoses and attacked by dogs.
The violence in Birmingham and the appalled reaction of the world drove home the crushing despair of life under Jim Crow, and led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
All these decades later, state legislatures across the country are turning back the clock, threatening voting rights with discriminatory restrictions. The Voting Rights Advancement Act, now pending in Congress, would restore those protections As we honor the memory of the four little girls were martyred for our rights, we urge Congress to honor them as well by passing the Act.