54 years after 16th Street Church bombing, Patterson’s column still resonates

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54 years after 16th Street Church bombing, Patterson’s column still resonates

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AP file
Mr. and Mrs. Chris McNair hold a picture of their daughter, Denise, 11, in Birmingham on Sept. 16, 1963, as they tell a reporter about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

“A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.”

That is how former Atlanta Journal-Constitution executive editor Eugene Patterson begin his daily column that ran on Sept. 16, 1963.

Eugene Patterson won a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 on the strength of his writing about the civil rights movement. His 1963 column, “A Flower for the Graves,” is considered his most powerful.

It was the day after four little black girls became victims of America’s virulent racism, when Klansmen used dynamite to blow up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and murder them.

Patterson used the power of his pen to write “A Flower for the Graves” and challenge the white South to do better. To be better. “Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand,” he wrote.

Killed when a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham 50 years ago today were (from left) Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Cynthia Dianne Wesley, 14. AP file

Today, on the 54th anniversary of Patterson’s column and the deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, the AJC is re-running it in its entirety.

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