It was 50 years ago this week that I fell madly in love with Denise McNair.
That love was unrequited. If you don’t immediately recognize the name Denise McNair, perhaps you will if it’s mentioned with three others.
Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.
Those were the “four little girls” killed in the Sept. 15, 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Collins, Robertson and Wesley were all 14 years old. McNair (pictured above, first from the left) was 11, the same age I was on Sept. 15, 1963.
The deaths of those four girls hit me hard, as I suspect they did everybody else in Black America. I’d like to think white America reacted the same way, but my guess is the deaths of McNair, Collins, Robertson and Wesley didn’t have quite the same impact.
Several years ago, editors at Life magazine got the bright idea to put out a special issue. The topic? Greatest crimes of the 20th century.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick’s killing some dogs made that list. The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church – and the murders of McNair, Collins, Robertson and Wesley – didn’t.
When those editors at Life magazine met to discuss their decision, you can bet there was nary a black face in the room.
Probably because we were the same age, little Denise’s death hit me harder than the others. That, and the photo that ran of her after her way-too-soon death.
Denise McNair was one gorgeous 11-year-old girl. I looked at her picture and fell in love immediately. Then the rage came.
For a while I hated all white people for what happened in Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 15, 1963. My hatred never abated, but soon it shifted from all white people to one white man in particular.
That would be George Corley Wallace, the governor of Alabama when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing occurred.
Since the murders occurred on his watch as governor, I figured it was Wallace that bore ultimate responsibility. But the man was guilty of much more than failing to bring the killers of the “four little girls” to justice.
Love Lost: How One of the Greatest Crimes of the 20th Century Changed One Man’s Life was originally published on blackamericaweb.com