BIRMINGHAM, Ala — On this day 56-years-ago, four young black girls were murdered when a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klan members exploded at their 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Their names were Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14.
Some 400 people were inside the church at the time of the bombing, and 17 other church-goers were injured in the blast. Riots broke out in Birmingham as racial tensions simmered to a new high and two other young black boys, Virgil Ware, 13, and Johnny Robinson, 16, were shot to death by white men.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was a predominantly black congregation which also served as a meeting place for prominent civil rights leaders. The Ku Klux Klan attacked the church just two and a half weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights March on Washington.
Outrage over the girls' death and the protests which followed helped draw national attention to the civil rights movement. It also paved the way for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and abolished Jim Crow laws that upheld segregation across the South.
Decades after the attack, four Klansmen were eventually convicted for their roles in what's now considered one of the single most horrifying acts committed by racists during the civil rights era.
One of the perpetrators, Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. is still alive in jail. He is now 89-years-old and was denied parole in 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden visited the church on Sunday, and said the country hasn't "relegated racism and white supremacy to the pages of history" as he framed current tensions in the context of the movement's historic struggle for equality.
And, taking to social media, many still remember and acknowledge the girls' deaths as a defining moment in the historical civil right moments.