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The Rev. John Cross Dies


Today, we also take time to remember someone who is best known for his prominent role in bringing healing and reconciliation to Birmingham, Alabama, after one of the most horrific events of the civil rights era.

Reverend John Cross died over the weekend at the age of 82. Cross was pastor of Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church. On the morning of September 15th, 1963, a large explosion shook the walls of the church. Disregarding warnings of a possible second bomb, Cross immediately began digging through the rubble and came upon a horrific sight: the bodies of victims stacked on top of each other.

Four girls - Denise McNair, Addie May Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley - were killed in the blast. Twenty-two others were injured. In an interview with NPR, Reverend Cross talked about the impact that incident had on his community.

Reverend JOHN H. CROSS, JR. (16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama): Well, the immediate effect was really one of anger and revenge. And, you know, that's kind of hard. You have grief on one hand, and anger on the next. It kind of gets you in a kind of a frustrated mood.

CORLEY: With racial tensions in Birmingham at a boil, Cross was instrumental in quelling further violence. As word of the bombing spread, a crowd gathered outside the church. Some began throwing stones at passing cars with white drivers. Cross stopped one woman from tossing a brick, telling her, no, you can't settle it like this. He picked up a bull horn, and sobbing, began to recite the 23rd Psalm. After that incident, Cross devoted his life towards finding ways to bring people together.

The bombing of the church and its aftermath remains, to this day, a focal point of the civil rights movement. And Cross' leadership at that time is an inspiration to those who continue to work for peace today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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