Produced in Haynes, Arkansas, on January 27, 1925, John Cross Jr. became a minister, teacher and civil rights activist. In 1963, he was serving as pastor in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when a bomb killed four young girls in the church. The strike was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. In the age of 82, Cross expired on November 15, 2007, in Lithonia, Georgia. John Cross Jr. attended elementary school in his hometown, and afterwards went to Lincoln High School in Forrest City, Arkansas.
Cross was a teen when he gave his first sermon; his ordination occurred at Springfield Missionary Baptist Church. In 1944, after finishing high school, he served in the U.S. Army as an assistant chaplain. When his service ended, he instructed in the Haynes public school system before registering at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. Cross graduated from school in 1950 using a diploma in social science.
Planning to pursue his theological studies, he returned to Virginia Union University and registered in a master’s program in the association’s divinity school. He received his master’s degree in 1959. Remaining in Richmond, then he became a pastor in the Gravel Hill Baptist Church.
The city was the site of battle between supporters of segregation and civil rights activists. In a 1991 post, Cross described the heightened racial tensions he experienced upon arriving in Birmingham. When he tried to hail a taxicab, the white motorist told him, “[I] do not drive coloreds.” Cross replied, “I Will let you know what, I am coming here to pastor a church. Before I leave here, you will be hauling anybody who would like to be hauled.” On September 15, 1963, a Sunday, a bomb was planted in the building. It went off before a youth service.
Cross was among the individuals who dug through the debris subsequent to the explosion, looking for survivors. He fell upon the bodies of the four young girls who were killed: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. The strike also made more than 20 other worshippers injured. Cross helped direct his parishioners throughout the dreary days after the disaster. He also presided over the funeral service which was held for Collins, McNair and Wesley. Around 8,000 people came to the service.
He additionally served as manager of the university’s Baptist student center. Several years after, he began working as the black church relations manager for the Atlanta Baptist Association. After retiring in 1989, Cross worked part time as a minister and youth counselor. Cross met Julia Ball at Virginia Union University. After wedding in 1949, the couple had four children: Michael, Alma, Lynn and Barbara. Cross loved seeing his hometown, saying that his favourite holiday destination was Haynes, Arkansas. The racially motivated assault killed four young girls and shocked the country.