BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – Hundreds gathered Thursday at the 16th Street Baptist Church to remember the lives of four girls killed there 59 years ago.
“Addie Mae, Dennis, Carol and Cynthia, we honor your names,” Gail Pugh Greene said as she offered the prayer for the service.
Their lives were cut short and more than a dozen others injured when the KKK bombed the building in 1963. Nearly 60 years later, the community looks back on that tragedy.
“Today we remember a dark chapter in Birmingham’s history and America’s history,” said Pastor Tony Evans.
Evans shared a message of hope that Birmingham and the country will never return to its racist past.
“My tomorrow will be better than my yesterday. My future will be greater than my past and where I am going will be greater than where I came from,” Evans said.
It’s a meaningful message for Lisa McNair, whose older sister Denise died that day.
“It’s a sad day to honor the memory of the four girls and their loss, but I’m always encouraged by the communities that come around and help us commemorate it, letting me know and the families know they haven’t forgotten,” McNair said.
McNair wants people to never forget the past so it doesn’t happen again.
“Let’s not go back to the time of hatred for each other. We have to love each other and that means that to me,” McNair said.
After the service, community leaders cut the ribbon, unveiling the now-renovated bishop’s yard next to the church. The building serves as a museum highlighting the work of black leaders who helped build the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
McNair is also honoring her sister with a book she just published called Dear Denise: Letters to the Sister I Never Knew.