Maxine McNair died on Sunday, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said.
Maxine was the mother of Denise McNair, one of the four little girls killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.
Maxine was in the church’s choir loft when the bomb exploded. She jumped up to try to find her daughter, not knowing she was buried in the rubble. She wouldn’t see Denise again until, at the hospital, she and her husband later identified their only child’s lifeless body.
“I couldn’t stop screaming for several days,” McNair recalled when talking about the tragic day decades later. “They had to give me an injection to calm my nerves.”
CNN previously reported that McNair was suffering from Alzheimer’s in her later years.
They knew their sister Denise had died at their church in a bombing and that it was a significant event in history, but their parents refused to share details, the sister said. Any questions they had were given one- or two-word answers. Maybe it hurt too much to talk about the past. Their father would later say he didn’t want to push it in their faces.
“Relatives said Daddy didn’t cry for six months, maybe a year,” said Lisa, who was born a year and four days after the bombing.
“If he did, he did it where we didn’t see it,” says their mother.
Kimberly, born four years after Lisa, says she was 8 when the ugly truth began to come out. They were visiting their grandmother; after someone mentioned Denise, the older woman fetched and opened a mysterious box.
The couple, who had tried to have more children ever since Denise was born, came home to silence. That they had another daughter almost exactly a year later, and then another, felt like a miracle.
Lisa and Kimberly admired their mother.
“No one would have blamed her if she’d crawled into bed and cried for the rest of her life,” Lisa said in 2013. “Mama said a minister friend of hers told her, ‘Maxine, God has a divine plan, and you just have to follow it.'”
The bombing in Birmingham lent new urgency to the civil rights movement. Less than a year after the bombing, President Lyndon B. Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act, which barred discrimination based on race and segregated facilities, among other racist practices.
Jessica Ravitz contributed to this report.