Dug through rubble after 1963 church bombing

Associated Press
Published November 18, 2007

ATLANTA - The Rev. John Cross Jr., who dug through the rubble of his Alabama church looking for survivors of a bombing, then presided over a funeral for some of the youngest victims of civil rights era violence, has died. He was 82.

Rev. Cross, who had been in failing health since a series of strokes, died Thursday (Nov. 15, 2007) at DeKalb Medical at Hillandale, his daughter, Barbara, said Saturday.

In 1962, he became pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which had become a haven for civil rights activities. On Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb went off during preparations for a youth service.

Barbara Cross, who was 13 at the time of the bombing and was inside the church but not seriously injured, remembers that her father started digging through the debris right after the explosion.

As he dug, other people there told him to stop, worried that there could be another blast.

"But he said, 'Don't let another charge go off. I've got to go in,'" she said of her father.

Rev. Cross later presided over a mass funeral for three of the four girls killed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the eulogy.

Three former Ku Klux Klan members were convicted in the bombing. Two died in prison, and the third is serving a life sentence.

In the years after the bombing, Rev. Cross focused on reconciliation among people of all races.

"He realized after the bombing, there was work to be done," Barbara Cross said. "That was his calling."

A funeral for Rev. Cross is set for Tuesday at Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.