"They fell in love with her and could send her to better schools," he says. "We missed her a lot, but we all knew it was for the best." She did come home on weekends, though, returning to the Wesleys on Sundays, he says. To him, she never stopped being a Morris.
In his mind, she was 10 or 11 when she left. As proof, he points to a portrait of her in a dress made by their mother; he says the picture was taken when Cynthia was 9. But others -- including childhood friends who only knew her as a Wesley -- have always said she was about 6. Figuring out who's right, when relatives say no formal adoption was ever processed, would be hard to do.
Memory can be a brutal weapon, and it has haunted and beaten up Fate ever since Cynthia died.
He was 11 and at home, three blocks away from the church, when he heard and felt the explosion. He came down the street to find an angry crowd, yelling at police who had gathered outside. With a 14-year-old friend, he says, he began helping remove debris.
"Someone said, 'I got another body over here,'" he remembers, as tears start to fall. "Then the last thing I heard was, 'I got a body over here, but she has no head.'"
That was Cynthia.
"I didn't know she went to 16th Street Baptist Church until the day she was found," he says.
Every day at about 4 a.m., for 50 years, Fate says he's wept remembering that moment and how he responded. He ran away. He couldn't stay. And he can't forgive himself for it.
"I wasn't there for her," he sobs in his dark-paneled home just outside Birmingham. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. My friend said 'You should've stayed,' and I didn't stay. I left her buried. Fifty years I've been living with this. ... What could I have done for her? I left her. I knew she was gone, but what bothered me is I left her."
This was a secret he kept for years. He never told his mother he was there that day.
Fate cries openly like no other surviving sibling seems to do. He guesses this is because of the guilt he says he carries. He says he never got help to deal with the emotions that overcome him. He tried, saying he met with psychiatrists, but says they didn't believe his story. He blames the ignorance of young doctors who didn't understand what was going on at that time.
Cynthia's funeral, the one that was held for three of the four girls, included a eulogy by King. Fate says his family stood near the back as the Wesleys took their place by the casket of his sister who shared their name.
"We had to virtually hold my mother up," he remembers.
As the years went on and Cynthia Wesley was mentioned in the media, he says he asked his mother if hearing that name bothered her. She told him it did. He asked if she wanted to do anything about it. She said, "No. I don't want to drag her name through the mud."
But his mother died in 1988, and Fate, who says he's the only surviving Morris sibling, helped wage battles she never did. He says he hired a lawyer to prove that Cynthia had never been adopted. He points to copies of her birth certificate and an amendment to her death certificate, certified in 2002, that lists Cynthia's birth name and birth parents.
At one point, he says, he hoped for restitution for her death, but today he believes if it was going to come, it should have happened long ago.
For now, he says, he'd be happy to see his sister's name changed to Morris in history books, on historic markers and on her grave.
"I know it would make my mother happy," he says. "And it might give me peace of mind."
Fate's struggle is one Shirley Wesley King, 63, feels compassion for, but she's been where Cynthia was and has a different view.
There's a long history of informal adoptions in the black community, she explains. That is how both she and Cynthia became Wesleys, though Shirley would join the family in 1964, after Cynthia was gone.
Shirley was the youngest in a family of four girls being raised by a single mother. Her mom, who cooked, cleaned and cared for other people's children, made her girls read all the time. Shirley devoured learning.
She desperately wanted to go to college and become a social worker, but she knew college wasn't something her mother could afford. A teacher who saw Shirley's hunger -- and knew the Wesleys -- would help make her dreams possible.
In the late fall of 1963, after the bombing, the teacher told Shirley's mother about the Wesleys and how they'd treated Cynthia as if she was their own. She explained how another child in the Wesley home might help heal their wounds, and that they had the means to support a girl with ambitions like Shirley's.
It was an interesting proposition, but Shirley's mother knew it wasn't her decision to make.
"My mother asked me what I thought about going to visit this family. I said, 'I would love to go to college,'" Shirley remembers saying. "She said, 'Well, I want you to go to college, too.'"
Her relationship with the Wesleys grew slowly. The couple first came over for a visit, bringing with them the family dog, a cockapoo named Tootsie. Over the course of months, many back-and-forth visits followed. The families got to know and respect one another. Shirley says by the time she moved in with them in April 1964, she enjoyed being part of a blended family. Her biological family lived near school, so she never stopped seeing them. But she would call the Wesleys her parents, too.
Shirley was 18 months younger than Cynthia, and though in some respects she stepped in where Cynthia left off, she never felt like she was a replacement daughter. There was no way she could be, she says. Cynthia was a "steady spirit" in the Wesley home, she says, her eyes welling. An extension of them all -- herself included.
"I could, to a degree, step into her shoes," she says, but they were different people. "She played clarinet. I did not do that. I played piano."
A large portrait of Cynthia hung above the piano Shirley practiced on every day. She slept in the twin bed that once belonged to Cynthia, and shared a bedroom with a grandmother who talked about Cynthia all the time. There were tears about the girl the Wesleys had lost, but Shirley says, "As much as they could, they wanted to focus on life."
She knows her being there helped the Wesleys cope and find some semblance of continuity. But Shirley, who now lives in Dallas, also knows she got just as much in return.
With them, her world opened up. The love the couple shared inspired her. Beyond gaining access to higher education and different circles, she developed new passions.
The Wesleys were involved with an organization that brought people of diverse faith, race, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds together. Shirley learned to not be afraid of differences, embrace the hard conversations and seek out the good.
She earned a Ph.D. in social work, taught and became an associate dean at a university. She led courses and fostered dialogues about ethics and diversity. She became active in the Southern Poverty Law Center and -- a nod to how her life was changed -- has long done work in the fields of foster care and adoption. She has trained people working in child welfare, consulted with agencies and volunteers, and advised prospective and current families. Today she helps her husband, a clinical psychologist, run a mental health and substance abuse facility.
"No matter what your loss is, you have to focus on the positive -- not the things you can't change," she says. "And you have to learn to forgive. If you hold onto anger, you end up being your worst enemy."
Only one person in that church bathroom survived the blast, and that was Sarah Collins, younger sister of victim Addie Mae Collins. She was 12 at the time, the youngest in a family of eight children, and she says she remembers everything.
Sarah, dubbed "the fifth little girl," was severely injured that day and has spent much of her life feeling ignored. Sometimes she thinks the world would have cared more about her if she'd died, too.
She and Addie had skipped Sunday school that morning and were hiding in the ladies lounge in the basement. Sarah peeked out the door to see Denise, Carole and Cynthia coming their way after class ended. She scrambled back inside and went to the sink, pretending she had to wash her hands. Addie stood beside her.
The other three girls came into the lounge. They weren't in there together for more than four or five minutes, Sarah says. Denise asked Addie to tie the sash on her dress. Sarah looked over her shoulder, her hands still in the sink, and watched.
Then it hit.