BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Barbara Cross remembers children screaming, unaware of what had just happened.
She was 13 years old when on September 15, 1963, she and other children were in Sunday school at 16th Street Baptist Church. Cross’ father, Rev. John Cross, had moved her and the family to Birmingham the year prior when he took the job leading the congregation there.
That morning, they were being taught a Sunday school lesson called “A Love That Forgives.” That’s when the bomb went off.
“I just remember I heard a loud noise and I got hit on my head with the fragments of the light fixture,” Cross said. “I didn’t know what it was at first.”
Four other girls– Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley– were killed in the blast.
Cross’ sister, Lynn, was among over a dozen injured in the blast. She remembers how Lynn, then 4 years old, had blood dripping from her head to her dress and was so shocked by the blast that the only thing she could tell first responders was her age by holding up four fingers.
Scraping the glass fragments off her head, Cross was given a difficult task in the midst of the ensuing chaos: writing down the names of each injured child.
“I’m just thankful that there weren’t more deaths,” she said.
Cross’ father knew something was bound to happen, sooner or later. Before the explosion, there had been six other bomb threats at the church that year. Up until the last moment, he knew what some in Birmingham were capable of.
“It was just a matter of when,” Rev. Cross told The Birmingham News the day after the attack. “We’ve been expecting this all along, waiting for it, knowing it would come, wondering when.”
Cross said that for many years, her father blamed himself for what happened. By 1968, the family had left Birmingham and headed to Montgomery, where he got a job as director of the Baptist Student Center at Alabama State University. Rev. Cross died in 2007 at the age of 82.
“I think he blamed himself for the bombing because he had allowed Dr. (Martin Luther) King to use the church,” she said. “However, he didn’t harbor any hatred for anyone.”
To this day, Cross tries not to remember the names of the men responsible for the bombing– . Nonetheless, like her father, Cross has chosen love over hate.
“I don’t hate the bombers, but I hate what they did. There’s a difference,” she said. “There’s a difference between hating the person and hating what they did.”
I think he might have been angry, but he never showed it. He was always a forgiving person. He never got angry. He might have been angry with what happened, but he never showed any hatred.
“Every time I go through there I just get nervous,” Cross told the Associated Press in December 1963.
We haven’t underestimated the extremists, he said. “We’ve known right along there were people in this town capable of antying. Even this.”