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UMBC President Remembers Classmate Killed In Birmingham Church Bombing

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PatWarrenWebPhoto Pat Warren
Pat Warren joined the Eyewitness News team in 1992. Pat came to WJZ...
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WJZ) — A hallmark of the civil rights movement brings hundreds together in Birmingham, Ala. to commemorate the 1963 church bombing that killed four little girls.

Pat Warren reports UMBC’s president was in a nearby church when that bomb went off.

Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Addie May Collins and Cynthia Wesley. Their names may not be familiar, but the bomb that killed them rattled the country and opened the blind eye many had turned to the civil rights movement at the time.

“It was as awful as any experience could be for anybody who was decent,” said Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski was a 13-year-old in Sunday service at a sister church in Birmingham when a box of dynamite planted by the Ku Klux Klan went off at 16th Street Baptist.

Warren: “There were people in your church who had family…”

Hrabowski: “Who had daughters and sons and grandchildren and siblings and parents.”

Hundreds gathered at a memorial service for the girls last weekend, recalling their lives. Hrabowski remembers the last words classmate Cynthia Wesley, on the far right, spoke to him.

“‘See you Monday.’ And as soon as I heard her name I saw her face saying that to me. It was just awful,” he said.

A sculpture honoring the girls was unveiled in a ceremony Saturday.

“Even in the midst of that awful experience, my mother and father were trying to say, ‘This is what happens when people hate,’” Hrabowski said.

The last surviving bomber is 83, still in prison near Birmingham.

Ten months after the bombing, President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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