Museum honors young lives lost in church bombing

by: Fred Blankenship Updated:

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ATLANTA —

It's a Sunday morning in September 1963.   The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. became a pivotal and tragic marker in the Civil Rights struggle.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the church injuring 22 people.  Eleven-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson were killed.

"They were down in the bathroom getting prepped, making sure their curls were in place and they got caught," said Robertson's cousin, Katrina Robertson Reed.

Reed last saw her cousin one week before the bombing.   Today, she's reflecting on being among the first to see a stained-glass tribute to the four girls at the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta.

"It's the first depiction I've seen of the girls that I think is as realistic as it could be," Reed said.

Barbara Cross, who now lives in Decatur, was inside the church the day of the bombing.  Her father, the late Rev. John Cross, was the church's pastor.

"I knew I was going to be a little emotional," she said looking at the memorial.  "Oh, it's beautiful."

Cross told Channel 2's Fred Blankenship how close she came to death that day.   All of the girls were friends, but she and Addie were the closest.  Just before the bomb went off, Addie wanted Cross to go to the bathroom with her.

"She was telling me goodbye and I didn't even know it," Cross told Blankenship, with tears rolling down her face.

A teacher stopped her and asked her to put a lesson on the board, saving her life.

Examining the exhibit with two women, Blankenship felt the little nuances in the tribute really hit home for them.  Below the stained-glass pictures are the words Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in remembrance of the girls.

"Had it not been for their deaths, we would not have had the Voting Rights Act, we would not have had the Civil Rights Act," said Reed.   "These girls were chosen.  Our families suffered a lot.   But I think it's been worth it."