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A somber anniversary: 60 years since the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing

APR spoke with former Sen. Doug Jones to get his thoughts on the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham tragedy.

16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
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On Sept. 15, 1963, exactly 60 years ago today, four little Black girls were murdered in a racist, bombing attack at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The individuals responsible were local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members and most of the members evaded being held accountable for the act for about 40 years.

However, in the early 2000s, former Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, then a U.S. attorney, prosecuted two of the men responsible for the heinous attack. APR spoke with Jones to get his thoughts on the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham tragedy. Jones said that despite the progress we have made, he is afraid that as a country we are not learning from the past, like what happened in Birmingham, and are moving backward.

“We see so many things where people are saying things that I believe stoke some violence that is both race-related as well as religious and political violence, and it’s really disturbing,” Jones said. “So I have mixed emotions going in. And I think it’s so important for us to remember where we were in the 1950s and 1960s. And remember, what happened here in Birmingham, and how four innocent children died simply because of hate and the color of their skin. That we need to remind people that we can’t let things like that happen again. And we were almost slipping back into some old ways that are not good.”

Jones stated that part of the problem is because of attempts to “white-wash” history. Since George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Republicans across the country began attacking school curricula and discussions of what they call “Critical Race Theory” or CRT in schools. This was in effect an attack on teachings of history or specifically Black history that demonstrate the flaws of the country especially regarding racial issues.

In Alabama, over the last two legislative sessions bills have been filed to curb the teachings of “divisive concepts” in schools. But for the second straight legislative session the bill died in the legislature. 

“And it’s stunning to me, that people want to just kind of, for lack of a better word, and this is kind of appropriate just whitewash history. This is an amazing country,” Jones said. “It’s an incredible country is the greatest country God has ever created. But we’re not without flaws. We’ve always had our flaws and we always will. And if you don’t recognize those falls, and understand them and study them and tell your children about those flaws in your you’re generally doomed to repeat them at some point.”

APR also asked Jones about the redistricting litigation in Alabama because of the implications it has for Black voters and the Voting Rights Act. Alabama Republicans recently ignored a Supreme Court and federal court order to redraw Alabama’s congressional map in a fair manner because it diluted Black voting power. The ALGOP deliberately ignored this order and are attempting to gut Section 2 of the VRA, which would eliminate protections for voters based on race and other factors.

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Many Southern states due to their history are divided along polarized racial lines including Alabama.

“That action is all about political power. I don’t necessarily believe that it’s based on racism per se in the way that we know it. But it is based on race and it is all about political power, rather than competing for the votes of African American voters.”

Over the week Birmingham has been hosting events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the bombing. This morning U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is slated to deliver a keynote address at the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Jones’ closing remark was that in order to protect this country he said we should be ensuring everyone can vote freely and easily instead of suppressing their vote.

“If we want to protect this republic, if we want to truly be the idea, the idea of America that in the way we found it, we should be doing everything that we can to make sure that everybody is eligible to vote,” Jones said. “Which means anybody, any citizen, that is over the age of 18 has an easy opportunity to vote.”

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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