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By Tiffany Ray
Religion News Service

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) Carolyn McKinstry, a lifelong member of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, remembers 1963 as a dark time, when a bomb planted under a stairway took the lives of four little girls, her friends, on Sept. 15 in the church basement.
On Sunday (Sept. 14), McKinstry joined other parishioners and community members to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the bombing, and to celebrate what she said has been a movement “from the darkness into the light.”
Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., spoke to the roughly 200 people gathered, saying the perpetrators of the 1963 attack were terrorists, seeking to instill fear and provoke further violence. Today, he said, “we are a nobler and better place.”
Davis read a letter to the church sent by Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who Davis said visited the church four years ago.
“I imagine that in quiet moments, many of you have thought about who Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley might have become had they been allowed to grow up,” the letter said.
“Maybe a doctor and a history teacher, a singer and a social worker — their world would have been one of increasing possibility, symbolized in no small part by this magnificent church and the community that built and sustains it.”
Davis said people have come a long way in the 45 years since the bombing, and Obama’s “presence on the national stage today is a testament to that fact.”
The church also celebrated the completion of a $3.8 million renovation to repair a cracked foundation and other damage that remained from the bombing.
As they do most days, volunteers guided visitors around the church, pointing out the back corner behind the organ where the bomb went off, and a small room of the basement that houses photographs and memorabilia from the attack.
McKinstry said about 200,000 people from around the world visit the church each year, and they regularly ask where the bomb was placed. To answer the question, she said the church will place a marker at that spot within the next 60 days.
Visitors also ask her how the church survived and moved on. People survived, she said, by having faith. “We held to a vision of what we wanted to see.” “Our faith and our hope have brought us to this day,”
McKinstry said.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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