- NAME: John Cross Jr.
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Minister
- BIRTH DATE: January 27, 1925
- DEATH DATE: November 15, 2007
- Did You Know?: In 1963, while John Cross Jr. was pastor at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, it was targeted in a bombing that killed four girls. The attack was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
- EDUCATION: Virginia Union University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Haynes, Arkansas
- PLACE OF DEATH: Lithonia, Georgia
- Full Name: John Haywood Cross Jr.
- AKA: John Cross Jr.
- AKA: Reverend John Haywood Cross Jr.
- AKA: John H. Cross Jr.
- AKA: John H. Cross
- AKA: Reverend John Cross Jr.
Best Known For
John Cross Jr. was the pastor at a Birmingham church that was bombed in 1963, killing four girls. The event was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
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Born in Haynes, Arkansas, on January 27, 1925, John Cross Jr. became a minister, educator and civil rights activist. In 1963, he was serving as pastor at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when a bomb killed four young girls at the church. The attack was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 82, Cross died on November 15, 2007, in Lithonia, Georgia.
"Hardly a day passes I don't think about it—dream about it two or three times a week."
[On the 1963 bombing of his Birmingham, Alabama, church.]
John Haywood Cross Jr. was born on January 27, 1925, in Haynes, Arkansas, where he was raised by parents John and Margie Ann. John Cross Jr. attended elementary school in his hometown, and later went to Lincoln High School in Forrest City, Arkansas.
Cross was a teenager when he gave his first sermon; his ordination took place at Springfield Missionary Baptist Church. In 1944, after completing high school, he served in the U.S. Army as an assistant chaplain. When his service ended, he taught in the Haynes public school system before enrolling at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. Cross graduated from college in 1950 with a degree in social science.
Cross next served as a minister at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Widewater, Virginia. Wanting to pursue his theological studies, he returned to Virginia Union University and enrolled in a master's program at the institution's divinity school. He received his master's degree in 1959. Staying in Richmond, he then became a pastor at the Gravel Hill Baptist Church.
In 1962, Cross was designated as pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The city was the site of conflict between supporters of segregation and civil rights activists. In a 1991 article, Cross described the heightened racial tensions that he experienced upon arriving in Birmingham. When he attempted to hail a taxicab, the white driver told him, "[I] don't drive coloreds." Cross responded, "I'll tell you what, I'm coming here to pastor a church. Before I leave here, you'll be hauling anybody who wants to be hauled."
Encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cross welcomed leaders of the Civil Rights Movement at his church. The house of worship was a nerve center for meetings and rallies, which resulted in Southern segregationists targeting the church. On September 15, 1963, a Sunday, a bomb was planted in the building. It went off before a youth service.
Cross was one of the people who dug through the rubble after the explosion, looking for survivors. He discovered the bodies of the four young girls who had been killed: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. The attack also left more than 20 other worshippers injured. The atrocity became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, building support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Cross helped lead his parishioners through the dark days following the tragedy. He also presided over the funeral service that was held for Collins, McNair and Wesley. Approximately 8,000 people came to the service.
In 1968, Cross left the 16th Street Baptist Church to teach history and sociology at Alabama State University.
Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BRCI), a museum, research center and teaching facility in Birmingham, Alabama. BRCI is dedicated to documenting the American Civil Rights Movement, and promoting civil and human rights worldwide through education.
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