On September 15, 1963, four young black girls were killed and 20 other people wounded when a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klan member Robert Edward Chambliss exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The terrorist attack revealed the growing hostility of segregationists towards the Civil Rights Movement as it was making inroads in the Deep South. At the time of the bombing, Birmingham was in a battle over the desegregation of schools; only weeks before, the National Guard had been called in to protect black students. For civil rights leaders, the bombing, which followed less than three weeks after the euphoria of the 1963 March on Washington, was a reminder of the long struggle that remained.
Eight thousand people attended a joint funeral for three of the girls. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the eulogy to a community which, having witnessed seven bombings within the previous six months, was torn between exhaustion and rage.