Survivors of the Birmingham Church Bombing Tell Their Stories of Forgiveness In the Face of Hatred

Bishop James Lowe can recall precisely where he was at 10:22 a.m., Sunday, September 15, 1963, when a bomb planted under basement stairs at Birmingham, Alabama's 16th Street Baptist Church detonated, killing four young girls--and in the process bringing national focus to the growing issue of civil rights for blacks in America.

"I was in a Sunday school room two doors down from where the bomb was placed that killed the four girls," recalled Bishop Lowe, pastor of Birmingham's thriving Guiding Light Church and a prominent spiritual leader in the community.

Eleven years old at the time, Lowe was with a number of other boys in one of the church's Sunday school class rooms when the bomb, placed by local Ku Klux Klan members, exploded and killed four of his friends and acquaintances: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair.

On Sept. 11 and 15, Christian television's Trinity Broadcasting Network will partner with the City of Birmingham to produce a pair of exclusive televised programs to honor the memories of the four girls and to commemorate the tragic event that changed the face of the struggle for civil rights in America. 

The memories of the tragic and historic event are still fresh in Lowe's mind 50 years after the fact, as are the emotions with which he and other survivors have struggled. "I remember a loud deafening noise and seeing glass flying out from the windows," Lowe recounted of the moment of the blast. "Instinctively, I turned my back and shielded my head with my arms to protect myself from whatever it was that was happening. From that moment on I lost an awareness of my friends that were in the room. It was as if a dark cloud had enveloped me."

One of the most vivid impressions that has remained with Bishop Lowe over the many years since the tragedy is not of the physical pain--like other survivors he suffered cuts and injuries from broken glass and flying debris. Rather, it is the memories of the terror on the faces and in the voices of those caught in the blast, and of parents frantically searching for their children.

As he ran out of the Sunday school room with thoughts of his two younger siblings somewhere nearby, Lowe caught a glimpse of a Sunday school teacher under a table embracing his 5-year-old sister. "I could see the fear on their faces and in both of their eyes," he remembered.

Later, as he stood outside the damaged church building, looking on the desperate faces of parents and watching police put up barricades, Lowe suddenly heard the voice of his own terrified mother calling to him, and still distinctly remembers her sobs of relief when he assured her that his two sisters were okay. "To this day I still choke up remembering her voice," he recalls.

Like other survivors, Lowe was forced to deal with the trauma of being the target of an attack motivated by intense hatred. "How does any young person deal with that kind of thing?" he asked. "There were no counselors available to us, so for the most part we had to deal privately with a whole range of emotions."

Uppermost was sorting out the motive for such a heartless assault on children. "How could people be so vicious and so hateful that they would place a bomb in a church," he wondered, "and then set that bomb at a time to go off when innocent children were in Sunday school?"

Lowe said that for years following the violent attack he struggled with conflicting emotions regarding his faith in God and the actions of those who claimed to worship Him. "I became cynical regarding this life and the ability of man to deal righteously with his brother," he recalled.

It was only after Lowe fully committed his life to Christ in his mid-twenties that forgiveness came, along with God's purpose for his life--to help bring true healing and reconciliation to individuals, families, and communities. "It is in the heart where evil resides, and unless the heart is changed by a personal relation with Almighty God through Christ Jesus no change will occur," Bishop Lowe explained. Today I do not look for good in any man. I look for the God in him."

He added that one of his main missions today is "to do all I can to help people come to a true sincere love and respect for one another and deal with differences in such a way that tragedies like this will never have to occur again."

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SOURCE: Charisma News
Dave Bohon
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