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The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church: A Turning Point in Civil Rights History

by on September 24, 2013


Today’s blog is written by Dr. Christina Violeta Jones, Textual Reference Archivist, who specializes in DOJ, FBI, and other law enforcement federal agencies records

Less than one month after the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, four young girls, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins, were killed when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama (National Archives Identifier: 5629353)

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had been a rallying post for civil rights activities throughout the 1960s. For instance, it was at the church where students were arrested during a training section for the 1963 Birmingham Campaign’s Children’s Crusade. The three-story building was also a space for prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and Fred Shuttlesworth to congregate and make plans for the movement. The active civil rights activity in the church marked it as a target for bombings and other acts of violence by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.

Key meeting place during civil rights movement and site of 1963 bombing

Key meeting place during civil rights movement and site of 1963 bombing (National Archives Identifier: 5629357)

RG 48 Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior (National Archives Identifier: 2679097) has a collection of the photographs displaying the designation ceremony of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church as a national historic landmark on February 19, 2006. These photographs contain images of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church’s Reverend Arthur Price, Jr., US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton who attended the ceremony.

 

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, far left, with Secretary Gale Norton and Arthur Price, Jr., Pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, at ceremonies designating the Church, key civil rights movement meeting place and site of 1963 bombing, as National Historic Landmark, 02/19/2006 (ARC ID: 5629491)

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, far left, with Secretary Gale Norton and Arthur Price, Jr., Pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama (National Archives Identifier: 5629491)

As noted in the September 10, 2013 blog post “Re-Introducing RG 60 Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files” by Archivist Tina Ligon, the DOJ Litigation case files were created by the various divisions of the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The DOJ’s investigation into the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing (case file # 144-1-906) is housed at the National Archives at College Park.

 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, key meeting place during civil rights movement and site of 1963 bombing, designated as National Historic Landmark, 02/21/2006 (ARC ID: 5629789)


 (National Archives Identifier: 5629789)

Researchers will have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request because these files have to be screened for FOIA (b)(6) Personal Information and FOIA (b)(7) Law Enforcement prior to use by researchers. For more information on filing a FOIA request please visit here.

*To inquire about records related to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing or any other records pertaining to the Civil Rights Period, contact the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, Textual Reference Division. You may call, write, or email them at the following address below:

National Archives at College Park

Textual Reference Division

8601 Adelphi Road

College Park, MD 20740

Tel: 301-837-3510, Fax: 301-837-1752

Email: Archives2reference@nara.gov


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