War and Conflict


Is the bombing of buildings a new phenomenon?

Though terrorist bombings seem a plague of recent decades, the history of such strikes goes back to a time before the word terrorism was part of everyday language. In 1920 a bomb explosion on September 16 ripped through the J. P. Morgan Bank Building in New York City, killing 39 people (30 of them instantly), injuring 300 more, and causing $2 million in property damage. According to eyewitness accounts, the bomb had been carried by a horse-drawn carriage into the heart of America’s financial center just before midday, and it exploded as nearby church bells tolled noon. Among the victims were passersby in the street and people working at their desks, including some high-ranking personnel at J. P. Morgan. Suspicion centered around anarchists, some of whom were questioned by the police and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). But no culprit was ever found. Until September 11, 2001, that event was the deadliest bombing in New York City history.

Further, the many bombings carried out by white supremacists during the civil rights movement in the 1960s are also testimony to the fact that targeted bombings are not a new phenomenon. Between 1962 and 1965, as the Council of Federated Organizations worked to register voters in Mississippi, racial extremists turned to violence. Among the tactics used—in addition to shootings, beatings, and lynches—were bombings. During Freedom Summer (1964) alone, more than 65 homes, churches, and other buildings were bombed in Mississippi.

Perhaps the most widely publicized of those bombings was the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963. Two hundred people were attending Sunday services when a bomb exploded. Four young African American girls were killed. But the sorrow of that day did not stop there: The bombing provoked racial riots, and police used dogs to control the crowds. Two black schoolboys were killed in the melee.


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