54 years ago today, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite beneath the front steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young African-American girls were killed in the explosion, and many others attending the Sunday morning service were injured.
Jazz legend John Coltrane wrote "Alabama" in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and he modeled his tenor sax playing on the cadence of Dr. Martin Luther King's eulogy for the four girls, delivered at their funeral in the bombed church's sanctuary only three days after the attack. On December 7, 1963, Coltrane and his quartet played the piece on the television program Jazz Casual. It's a singularly powerful, gut-wrenching dirge, one that evokes a bottomless sorrow, but also, as Dr. King says in his speech, "God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace." Watch it below.