For The Young Victims
Of The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing
by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
September 18, 1963, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama
[Delivered at funeral service for three of the children -
Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, and Cynthia Diane Wesley - killed
in the bombing.
A separate service was held for the fourth victim, Carole Robertson.]
afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute
of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage
of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were
privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly
well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of
their earthly life comes to a close. They are now committed back to
that eternity from which they came.
These children-unoffending, innocent, and beautiful-were the victims
of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against
And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade
for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense
they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something
to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind
the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say
to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents
with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They
have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with
the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant
hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something
to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system
of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle
for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we
must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be
concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system,
the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their
death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for
the realization of the American dream.
And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a
way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over
and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent
blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force (Yeah)
that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah) The holy Scripture
says, "A little child shall lead them." (Oh yeah) The death
of these little children may lead our whole Southland (Yeah) from the
low road of man's inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood.
(Yeah, Yes) These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an
aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood
of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham
(Yeah) to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive
extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the
white South to come to terms with its conscience. (Yeah)
And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that
in spite of the darkness of this hour (Yeah Well), we must not despair.
(Yeah, Well) We must not become bitter (Yeah, That's right), nor must
we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose
faith in our white brothers. (Yeah, Yes) Somehow we must believe that
the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the
worth of all human personality.
May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It
is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult
hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating
in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from
the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual.
There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for
some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die
and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young
people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty.
Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.
I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity's affirmation
that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great
sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.
Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of
nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let
this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining
power during these trying days.
Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible
steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing
waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments
of flood. (Yeah, Yes) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life
has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its
winters. (Yeah) And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks
with him (Yeah, Well), and that God is able (Yeah, Yes) to lift you
from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark
and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.
And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful
children. [moans] They didn't live long lives, but they lived meaningful
lives. (Well) Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but
glowingly large in quality. (Yeah) And no greater tribute can be paid
to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children,
than where they died and what they were doing when they died. (Yeah)
They did not die
in the dives and dens of Birmingham (Yeah, Well), nor did they die discussing
and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah) They died between the sacred walls
of the church of God (Yeah, Yes), and they were discussing the eternal
meaning (Yes) of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing
for all generations. (Yes) Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful
words as he stood over the dead body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand
over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the
words of Shakespeare: (Yeah, Well): Good night, sweet princesses. Good
night, those who symbolize a new day. (Yeah, Yes) And may the flight
of angels (That's right) take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you.