A national group of mayors, meeting in the church where a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed four black girls 50 years ago, on Thursday proposed a 10-point plan to end racism and discrimination in America.
The proposals from the U.S. Conference of Mayors include speaking out against bias, reducing poverty and working to reduce disparities between whites, blacks and Hispanics in prison sentencing.
In cities, the mayors said they want to promote inclusion and tolerance and help integrate immigrants into communities. They said closing economic gaps between whites and minorities is a key.
“You can have freedom and a job and still be in chains,” said Mayor Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma, Wash.
The organization unveiled the plan in Alabama at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, an organizing spot of the civil rights movement that was bombed on Sept. 15, 1963.
“We as a country have made great progress since then, but we still have much to do,” Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif., said from the pulpit.
As he spoke, workers outside the church installed a memorial sculpture of the girls that will be unveiled in a park on Saturday.
The mayor’s association said it was establishing the U.S. Coalition of Cities Against Racism and Discrimination as part of the International Coalition of Cities Against Racism in partnership with UNESCO, the educational arm of the United Nations.
Other coalitions have been formed in Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia, and in Arab nations.
Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph Riley Jr., past president of the mayors’ conference, said he hoped the plan would gain wide support and make a difference in U.S. cities.
“I would think that eventually a few hundred mayors will sign on, because it’s something that mayors of all political persuasions are committed to,” Riley said in an interview before the meeting. “We’re right there with the people, our work is not in the abstract.”
Two of the 10 points in the plan deal with crime in minority communities. One proposes working to reduce sentencing disparities between whites, blacks and Hispanics in prison sentencing. The other would make it easier for people to re-enter society once they have served their time.
Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia said he would like to expand a program the city began to provide $10,000 tax credits to businesses that hire prisoners following their release.
“This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Nutter said. “If people are wandering around just wondering what to do with themselves, unfortunately they will get in trouble again.”
The gathering was held during five day of commemorations of a bomb that detonated outside 16th Street Baptist, killing four young girls and critically injuring a fourth. Two black boys were shot to death in Birmingham that same day in the chaos that followed the bombing.
Associated Press Writer Sonya Ross in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.