By: BRIDGET JOHNSON
The upcoming anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963 was remembered in South Bend over the weekend. Dianne Braddock discussed the civil rights movement of the 1960s and present-day problems. Braddock is the sister of Carole Robertson, a young girl killed in the bombing.
The bombing, executed by members of the Ku Klux Klan, killed four girls who were in the basement of the church, and injured others. An event cited as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, the bombing devastated a community and informed the world of the struggle for civil rights in the United States, according to the Civil Rights Heritage Center press release.
“No one had thought that children inside of a church would be bombed,” Braddock said. “A window was opened to see what was going on in Birmingham and the South,”
On Saturday, Sept. 7, Braddock shared her experiences in South Bend at the Civil Rights Heritage Center, the Center for History and at a march to Greater St. John Missionary Baptist church where local college gospel choirs performed. The focus of the two-day event was to remember the 1963 tragedy and discuss past and present issues pertaining to equality. Braddock spoke about how she thinks current issues will be confronted.
“It was the children who marched and went to jail, and here again I think it’s going to have to be a young people’s movement now,” Braddock said. “It may be over this voting rights issue. I don’t know what the catalyst will be, but I think for sure it will be young people.”
After a screening of the film “Four Little Girls” by Spike Lee, Braddock sat on a panel with Lawrence Giden and IU South Bend history professor Monica Tetzlaff. The film elicited emotions from the crowd, often verbalized, but also including tears and laughter. Families and friends of the young women who were killed were interviewed about the bombing and activists explained why the event was a catalyst for change.
“People had tried peacefully talking to city officials to ask for changes,” Braddock said. “The people were fed up and that’s why they took to the streets to march.”
When the panel offered the chance for discussion, multiple people brought up parallels between the inequalities of the past and present. The crowd was comprised of people of all ages, some recalling personal experiences of segregation. Those experiences were discussed, in addition to the inability for some to gain employment currently.
On the topic of unemployment, Braddock said, “How many people with master’s and PhDs are out of employment? Poverty is staring us in the face—unemployment is staring us in the face.”
Braddock spoke about ways that young adults might cause change, and compared that with how civil rights marches were organized. Back then they had no smartphones and had to communicate solely through word of mouth, by printing purple fliers and getting information through social institutions such as churches.
“Social media is a way that young people can organize themselves for these movements,” Braddock said.
President Obama signed a bill in May to posthumously honor the four girls with the Congressional Medal of Honor. One reason cited by the bill for granting this honor was that the four little girls were “emblematic of so many who have lost their lives for the cause of freedom and equality.”
“It means a lot,” Braddock said. “What that says is that this country has recognized the dastardly act that took place. The country is saying that we can’t replace your loved ones, but we do commemorate that they gave their lives for a worthy cause.”
In addition to receiving this honor, the lives of the girls will be celebrated on the 50th anniversary of the bombing in Birmingham, according to Braddock.
“It will reignite a passion for the moment,” Braddock said. “I think it’s wonderful that everyone wants to commemorate these fifty years. It’s a timely point, but so much more could have happened in these last fifty years.”
Braddock said that there is more to be done in reaching full equality, but she is hopeful for the future.