sixteenth_street_baptist_church_victims.gifBIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Fresh off a nearly $4 million renovation funded mostly by community donations, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church paused Monday to recall the 45th anniversary of a Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed four black girls in 1963.


The downtown church tolled bells to mark the moment of the bombing on Sept. 15, 1963, and a civic group said it would present a lifetime achievement award to survivor Sarah Collins Rudolph.

Rudolph testified against Ku Klux Klansmen convicted in the bombing years after it occurred. She is the sister of bombing victim Addie Mae Collins, who was killed along with Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

On Sunday, the church held a ceremony and unveiled a $3.8 million renovation to the old brick building. The work included a new marker to commemorate the blast, which shocked the nation and came to symbolize the depth of hatred over racial integration in the South.

During a speech, Rep. Artur Davis read a letter sent to the church by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“I imagine that in quiet moments, many of you have thought about who Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley might have become had they been allowed to grow up,'' the letter said. “Maybe a doctor and a history teacher, a singer and a social worker _ their world would have been one of increasing possibility, symbolized in no small part by this magnificent church and the community that built and sustains it.''

Davis is the Alabama chairman of Obama's campaign.

Longtime church member Carolyn McKinstry said about 200,000 people from around the world visit the church annually, and many ask where the bomb was placed. To answer the question, members plan to place a second marker at the exact spot outside the building.

Three one-time Klansmen were convicted in the bombing in three separate trials. Two died in prison, but Thomas Blanton Jr., 78, is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2001.