About 10:21 a.m. on that mid-September Sunday, the church’s pastor, Rev. John Haywood Cross, was in the auditorium for a women’s Bible class when it suddenly felt to him as if the whole world were shaking. Following the explosion, he looked up to see fallen glass and plaster and such dense smoke that he could barely recognize people three feet away, he later recalled. As the dust swirled, Cross yelled for churchgoers to get out of the building. Then he went looking for the children in the basement, walking through a huge hole the explosion had blown in the side of the church.

There, he saw injured people “standing around outside in a dazed condition and many were bloody,” according to court documents from the trial of one of the bombers. After digging about two feet into the rubble, he and others found the dead body of a young girl, and then three others.

The killing of the four girls is referenced in the Cathedral’s upcoming book, “Now and Forever,” which will be released Sept. 23 as part of the unveiling and dedication of new racial justice windows by Kerry James Marshall. In the book, there’s a guest essay by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, an art historian at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Windows Committee.

Gwendolyn writes about the significance of stained glass within the Black church, but particularly a new window at Sixteenth Street Baptist, which was donated by the people of Wales when the 1963 bombing destroyed a window that featured the face of Jesus. She writes:

“Like Kerry James Marshall’s new Cathedral windows, some stained glass windows have been responses to traumatic events. The famous stained glass window at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., which shows Jesus with brown skin and curly hair, was conceived by Welsh artist John Petts and donated by the people of Wales after the church was bombed in 1963. The words at Christ’s feet, “You do it to me,”are from Mathew 25:40 (“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”). This poignant window imparts this message of brotherly love and commemorates the resurrection of the church after a bombing by domestic terrorists left four little girls dead.”

Commemorative editions of the book will be available to guests at the Sept. 23 dedication. We hope to see you there!

(photo credit: Hal Yeager/The Washington Post via Getty Images)