When a bomb struck a church Birmingham, Alabama and killed four little girls back in 1963, it put the civil rights movement on the front pages. It also changed the life of the church's pastor Reverend John H. Cross Jr. Reverend Cross died this past week at the age of 82.

NPR's Allison Keyes has this remembrance.

ALLISON KEYES: It was the morning of September 15th 1963. Reverend John Cross was sitting in on the women's Bible study class at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The lesson was about a love that forgives, just then a bomb ripped through the church. Cross told NPR he went around the side of the building to check on the damage.

Reverend JOHN H. CROSS JR. (Pastor, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church): And that's when I noticed this big crater lodge in after almost drive of tank threw ii. And when we start digging through the debris, we didn't dig too far before we start finding the bodies - one stacked right on the beneath - on top of each other.

KEYES: People tried to stop Cross from digging, worried that there could be another blast, but he kept on - trying to make sure the children were okay. Four girls died that day in the city known as bombingham because so many churches and other places had been attacked. Cross' church was the crucible for the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Activists held meetings and planned marches there. He told NPR the bombing devastated the community.

Rev. CROSS JR.: Well the media effect was really one of anger and revenge. And, you know, that's kind of hard, you have grief on the hand and anger on the next. It kind of gets you in the kind of a frustrated mood.

KEYES: But those whirling emotions sparked a new direction for Cross. His friend and fellow civil rights activist, Reverend Abraham Woods, says Cross began trying to bring the races together.

Reverend ABRAHAM WOODS (Civil Rights Activist): He was that kind of person instead of being overcome by bitterness and hatred, as I remember him, he was a good example of what Jesus wants you to do.

KEYES: In 2001, Cross testified at the trial of Thomas Blanton Jr. Blanton was one of the three man convicted for their roles in the bombing. At the time, cross said people often why go back through such memories. He said, it's not a matter of going back through it, it's a matter of justice being done.

Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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