January 13th, 1957

Four Alabama Congregations Hold Services After Churches Are Bombed

On January 13, 1957, three days after four black churches and two pastors' homes were bombed in Montgomery, Alabama, the congregations held Sunday services amidst the debris.

The bombings, which injured no one but caused significant damage, came at a time of racial tension and civil rights progress in Montgomery. Less than a month before, a year-long boycott protesting racial segregation on city buses ended after achieving desegregation. Some local whites were threatened by this victory and reacted with acts of terrorism.

All four black churches bombed - Bell Street Baptist Church, Hutchinson Street Baptist Church, First Street Baptist Church, and Mt. Olive Church - had supported the bus boycott and the targeted pastors were civil rights leaders: Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy of First Street Baptist Church was a prominent boycott leader and proponent of desegregation and Reverend Robert Graetz, white minister of the predominantly black Trinity Lutheran Church, actively supported the bus boycott.

Two days after the bombings, Reverend Abernathy announced plans for Sunday service, telling a reporter that "despite the wreckage and broken windows we will gather as usual at our church" and offer special prayers for "those who would desecrate the house of God."

Two white men affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, Raymond Britt and Sonny Livingston, were indicted in February 1957 after confessing to the bombings. An all-white jury acquitted them of all charges in May 1957, while spectators cheered.