Little Known Black History Fact: John Petts

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  • On September 15, 1963, 15 year-old Carolyn Mckinstry walked into the sanctuary to hand in Sunday school papers to the office at 16th Street Baptist Church. Within a few steps, she heard a large explosion. A bomb had been ignited. This particular bomb killed four little girls: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Denise McNair. The bombing not only shook the nation, but reached overseas to the heart of a man named John Petts. He was in Wales, 4,000 miles from the scene of the crime.

    The white artist and father from Wales wasn’t only shaken by the young lives lost in the act of hatred, but also by the artistry that was blown away inside the church. Looking for a way to contribute, Petts teamed with a local editor named David Cole to solicit funds that would be used toward a new stained glass window for the Alabama church. His goal was to make the new window a collaborative effort symbolizing unity among the people of Wales. No one was allowed to contribute more than half  a crown to keep rich people from taking the focus off the church. In a short time, The Western Mail newspaper was publishing photos of both black and white children in Wales lining up to give funds toward the 16th Street Baptist Church restoration.

    Between the bombing and 1964, Petts visited the church in Alabama. Clueless as to how he would approach the project, Petts consulted Matthew 25:40 and saw the amazing vision of the stained glass window in his mind. In 1965, Petts installed a stained glass window picturing an African American Jesus Christ with one hand stretched out against hatred and the other offering forgiveness. It was a groundbreaking scene for the 1960’s, especially since Southern Baptist whites would most likely be against the scene of a black Lord and Savior.

    The stained glass window still sits proudly at 16th Street Baptist Church, representing international unity and the lives lost that September in 1963. John Petts passed away in 1991.

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