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 The U.S. Civil Rights Movement  
 
Coffin carried through crowd

Mourners follow the coffin of a bombing victim during a funeral in Birmingham, Alabama. The victim was one of four young girls -- Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley -- killed in a September 15, 1963, bombing.

The girls, ages 11-14, were killed by a bomb at the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham. They had been preparing to lead a youth service.

“We thought it would have been a safe place, but the racists didn’t think so,” Walker, King’s chief of staff, said. He said King attended the funerals to help the parents and because, having approved of children marching against segregation, he “felt keenly” about the murders.

Earlier in 1963, thousands of children came to the church for protest marches. Some were jailed; others were dispersed by police dogs and high-powered hoses. Photographs of such treatment brought the movement new support from around the world, but put children at risk.

In Pillar of Fire, Branch reports the girls’ funerals “produced the largest interracial group of clergy in Birmingham history, but no city officials attended.” (© AP Images)