Sixty years ago, a bomb ripped through an Alabama church. Four precious girls died in the blast. Now two people linked to the tragedy have forged a friendship—unlikely apart from Jesus.
Lisa McNair and Tammie Fields have childhood connections to one of the most horrific atrocities memorialized by the U.S. civil rights movement. But it would be decades before they met at a Black History Month event.
On September 15, 1963, Ku Klux Klan members placed dynamite at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Inside, children gathered downstairs before Sunday services.
Suddenly, a blast rocked the building. Bricks and mortar rained down.
The explosion killed 11-year-old Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins, all 14. Sarah Collins Rudolph, Addie Mae’s sister, lost an eye.
Denise was Lisa McNair’s sister. “People killed my sister just because of the color of her skin,” McNair says.
McNair was born a year after the bombing. Her parents lived with intense sorrow. “My mother . . . would often take us with her to the cemetery, and sometimes she would just be there, and she would cry,” McNair says. “Or sometimes she would just sit and stare.”
Juries eventually convicted three Ku Klux Klansmen of murder for causing the explosion: Robert Chambliss in 1977, Thomas Blanton in 2001, and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002.
Police questioned Fields’ father, Charles Cagle, too. Cagle was convicted for illegal possession of dynamite. At the time, an aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., called the trial “a farce.” Cagle’s conviction was later overturned.
Fields was a toddler at the time of the bombing. She remembers her late father hating black people. She remembers being encouraged to hate black classmates. She credits God for putting her preacher-grandfather in her life and showing her another way. That way ultimately led her to McNair.
Fields wanted to meet the woman who’d lost a sister in the attack with which her father may have assisted. At first, McNair hesitated. Meeting Fields seemed “almost like meeting the person who killed your sister,” she says. But eventually, the two attended an event at which Fields spoke about the bombing.
McNair witnessed Fields’ genuineness. Afterward, the women embraced and cried. Today, both speak out against hate.
This is the power of the cross. Jesus Christ could have rejected those who nailed Him to the tree. Instead, He welcomed—and still welcomes—those who earnestly seek Him and repent. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
“I was extremely, extremely nervous,” Fields remembers. “She had every right not to accept me, but she did.”
Why? The gospel is capable of producing harmony in relationships with God, friends, family, and even enemies.