The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

September 1, 2013

Survivors mark 1963 bombing of Ala. church

SHENANGO VALLEY — Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins. They were the girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing September 15, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala.

Barbara Cross, a survivor of the bombing, said she asks every audience in which she shares the story to repeat the girls’ names so they will never be forgotten.

“I thank God our lives were spared so we could share their stories,” Cross said.

She called the girls “Angels of Change.” When they died in the bombing, Denise was 11 years old; and Cynthia, Carole and Addie Mae were each 14.

Cross and Junie Collins-Williams, another survivor, were the keynote speakers Saturday for a program at Penn State Shenango marking the 50th anniversary of the bombing, which also injured several people.

The church was the site of many civil rights protest marches during the 1960s in Birmingham, a significant religious center for the city’s black population and routine meeting place for civil rights organizers like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the program, Hermitage commissioners and Sharon City Council both presented the women with proclamations recognizing the bombings as a vital reminder of the civil rights struggle.

“It reminds us that the struggle was difficult and many people suffered to make things different,” William Moder, president of the Hermitage Board of Commissioners, said.

Moder commended both women for their courage and their desire to make a difference.

The women answered questions at a press conference prior to the formal program.

After years of silence, Collins-Williams said she felt compelled to tell the story.

“We must share a story to motivate young people to make a difference in their corner of the planet,” Collins-Williams said.

Cross teared up as she spoke of the bombings and her father, John Cross, pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church at the time.

She said after the homemade bomb exploded, he recited a psalm from the Bible through a megaphone outside the church in an effort to calm young activists running angry through the streets.

Sometime later, Rev. Cross told his daughter that he felt guilty for having King come to speak at the church. She said bombings followed King, so much so that Birmingham had been nicknamed “Bombingham.”

In tears from the painful memories, Cross spoke of her father’s courage and she spoke of forgiveness. She said she does not hate those responsible for the bombing, she hates what they did.

“My physical scars are gone but the emotional scars; I don’t know when that’s going to go away,” Cross said.

She said her body shook for a long time afterward and the sound of the bomb going off reverberated in her head for about 10 years.

“We like to think of ourselves as survivors, not victims,” Cross said.

Cross and Collins-Williams were both at the church attending Sunday school on that fateful day. Cross suffered a gash in her head.

Addie Mae, Collins-Williams’ sister, was found alive in the rubble and died later in the emergency room of a local hospital.

Collins-Williams spoke of being in Sunday school that day in the church and hearing the explosion like it just happened yesterday.

Cross said that most of her siblings will not speak of the bombing.

“However difficult, I want to share the story. I want the next generation to remember this,” Cross said.

The Shenango Valley Interdenominational Clergywomen’s Alliance and Penn State Shenango were instrumental in bringing the two women to the valley to share their stories.

The pair will speak at 5 p.m. today in Hour of Power Full Gospel Tabarnacle in Farrell.

Text Only
Local News
  • To demolish or not Tear it down? Fix it up?

    In 2007, Richard D. Givens bought a home at 831 Knobwood Drive in Hermitage for $245,000.
    Today, the city of Hermitage is seeking the demolition of the now-vacant house, arguing the damage from water infiltration makes the structure not worth saving.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 19, 2014

    April 19, 2014

  • Man admits having child porn

    A Mercer man accused of soliciting and downloading photographs of nude teenage girls pleaded guilty April 8 to sexual abuse of children for possessing child pornography.

    April 19, 2014

  • Police getting new tool to fight crime

    Sharon police working at crime scenes will be putting a powerful new investigative tool to work as soon as next month.

    April 19, 2014

  • Soap box derby finds new home

    The Greater Pennsylvania Super Kids soap box derby for special-needs kids is moving to Sharpsville.

    April 19, 2014

  • News briefs from April 18, 2014

    ‘Nonspecific threat’ prompts evacuation

    Supreme Court refuses to hear couple’s appeal

    Lung Association offering free radon test kits

    April 18, 2014

  • Man admits to choking; rape case is dropped

    A Greenville man on Thursday pleaded down a rape case to simple assault and continued to deny that he committed any sexual crimes.

    April 18, 2014

  • Judge issues tabletop ads injunction against couple

    A judge recently handed down an injunction prohibiting a Sharon man, his wife and two companies associated with the wife from working in the tabletop advertising business within 100 miles of Sharon.

    April 18, 2014

  • Tech waste eyed for new contact

    The current Hermitage solid waste contract was designed to increase recycling while reducing the amount of garbage placed at the curb, and it has lived up to its promise.

    April 18, 2014

  • WaterFire Rekindled

    WaterFire Sharon has chosen themes for its festivals to be held on three Saturdays in downtown Sharon. “Elements” will be the theme July 19, “Origins” for Aug. 23 and “Motion” for the Sept. 27 celebration.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 17, 2014

    Man arrested for running from accident scene

    UPMC, Southwest eyeing security at hospital

    Crashes cause diversion of Interstate 80 traffic

    Court supports prison term in chase case

    Woman gets 5-10 years in crash that killed officer

    April 17, 2014

  • Officials pledge support to sewer project

    Publicly declaring their intention to donate county land to the Upper Neshannock Watershed Authority, Commissioners Matt McConnell and John Lechner said there’s no need for Commissioner Brian Beader to worry about the loss of the sewer project at the Interstate 80/Route 19 interchange.

    April 17, 2014

  • Griswold Avenue fire Neighbors tried to save victim

    As flames and thick smoke poured out of a Sharon house Tuesday evening, neighbors rallied to try and save the man who lived there alone.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woman nabbed, sister sought in assault

    Southwest Mercer County Regional police have arrested a Hermitage woman for breaking into a home in Farrell and beating a woman and are seeking the alleged assailant’s sister.

    April 16, 2014

  • Despite good deeds, man going back to prison

    Linda K. Kretzer had nothing but praise for Raymond C. McKelvey.

    April 16, 2014