“I wonder what they’ve bombed now.”
When I heard the bomb go off on that Sunday morning in September 1963, I thought, “I wonder what they’ve bombed now.”
I soon learned that it was Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The most heartbreaking news came later that day. My friend, Cynthia Wesley, and my teacher’s daughter, Denise McNair, had both been killed.
They were both bright, smart high achievers. They both would have been stars, as I’m sure the other girls would have been.
I wonder why tragedy is so often necessary before people take action against injustice and inhumanity. The loss of 4 innocent little girls finally led America to say “Enough!” The wheels were put in motion to begin dismantling Birmingham’s system of segregation and discrimination and to pass the Civil Rights Act.
The Morning of the Shrapnel Bombs
One day, shrapnel bombs were planted along the route that I walked every morning to get the bus to Ullman High School. A few minutes before I left the house, our phone rang. “Keep your children home,” said a neighbor. “Bombs have gone off along Center Street.” Those calls were critical, because 15 minutes or so later, a second round of shrapnel exploded.
After the shrapnel bombings, Mr. William Bryant drove me and some of my friends to school every day. This was his way of contributing to our safety and to the Civil Rights Movement.
A Tale of Two Cities
Despite the segregation, discrimination, and violence, I grew up in one of the best places in America.
My neighborhood of Titusville was protective and nurturing. Our parents, our teachers, principals, ministers, and neighbors surrounded us with love and the strongest of values. They rejected victimhood. Excellence in all things, faith, hard work, and lending a helping hand were the values that our elders taught us to cherish. Passionate about education, they made sure that we were prepared to walk through the doors of opportunity when they opened.
With the foundation that our elders laid, we have led productive, contributing lives. With God’s blessing that good wins over evil, I have come to where I am today. I live in gratitude.
Mary Bush wrote this story in September 2013, for Kids in Birmingham 1963.