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MLK: Eulogy for the Martyred Children

Getty Images / Chicago History Museum / Declan Haun

On Sept. 15, 1963, four young girls were killed in a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Three days later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this eulogy

On Sept. 15, 1963, four young girls were killed in a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Three days later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this eulogy at a funeral service for Addie Mae CollinsCynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. (A separate service was held for the fourth victim, Carole Robertson.) In his eulogy, King stressed that though the girls were martyred, they did not die in vain. He called upon their friends and families, as well as the community at large, to cast bitterness from their hearts and turn away from the desire for vengeance:

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. 

He also called out religious and political leaders who ignored or encouraged the climate of hate that led to the attack in the first place, and reiterated the need for continued work toward equality and freedom for all Americans.

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 who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. ... 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.

 


View an edited copy of the speech at The King Center

Read the entire transcript here