Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Horrific Birmingham Alabama Church Bombing that Killed Four Black Girls on September 15, 1963 and the Heinous Legacy of Racial Terrorism in the United States

 
Vernon Merritt / Birmingham News / Landov
Juanita Jones, center, comforts her sister, Maxine McNair, whose daughter Denise died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963. At left is Clara Pippen, mother of the two women.


Birmingham Bomb Kills 4 Negro Girls In Church; Riots Flare; 2 Boys Slain

Guard Summoned
Wallace Acts on City Plea for Help as 20 Are Injured
Wallace Orders Guardsmen Out

By Claude Sitton
Special to The New York Times

RELATED HEADLINES
 
Full-Scale F.B.I. Hunt On In Birmingham Bombing

Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 15--A bomb severely damaged a Negro church today during Sunday school services, killing four Negro girls and setting off racial rioting and other violence in which two Negro boys were shot to death.

Fourteen Negroes were injured in the explosion. One Negro and five whites were hurt in the disorders that followed.

Some 500 National Guardsmen in battle dress stood by at armories here tonight, on orders of Gov. George C. Wallace. And 300 state troopers joined the Birmingham police, Jefferson County sheriff's deputies and other law-enforcement units in efforts to restore peace.

Governor Wallace sent the guardsmen and the troopers in response to requests from local authorities.

Sporadic gunfire sounded in Negro neighborhoods tonight, and small bands of residents roamed the streets. Aside from the patrols that cruised the city armed with riot guns, carbines and shotguns, few whites were seen.

Fire Bomb Hurled

At one point, three fires burned simultaneously in Negro sections, one at a broom and mop factory, one at a roofing company and a third in another building. An incendiary bomb was tossed into a supermarket, but the flames were extinguished swiftly. Fire marshals investigated blazes at two vacant houses to see if arson was involved.

Mayor Albert Boutwell and other city officials and civic leaders appeared on television station WAPI late tonight and urged residents to cooperate in ending "this senseless reign of terror."

Sheriff Melvin Bailey referred to the day as "the most distressing in the history of Birmingham."

The explosion at the 16th Street Baptist Church this morning brought hundreds of angry Negroes pouring into the streets. Some attacked the police with stones. The police dispersed them by firing shotguns over their heads.

Johnny Robinson, a 16-year-old Negro, was shot in the back and killed by a policeman with a shotgun this afternoon. Officers said the victim was among a group that had hurled stones at white youths driving through the area in cars flying Confederate battle flags.

When the police arrived, the youths fled, and one policeman said he had fired low but that some of the shot had struck the Robinson youth in the back.

Virgil Wade, a 13-year-old Negro, was shot and killed just outside Birmingham while riding a bicycle. The Jefferson County sheriff's office said "there apparently was no reason at all" for the killing, but indicated that it was related to the general racial disorders.

Another Negro youth and a white youth were shot but not seriously wounded in separate incidents. Four whites, including a honeymooning couple from Chicago, were injured by stones while driving through the neighborhood of the bombing.

The bombing, the fourth such incident in less than a month, resulted in heavy damage to the church, to a two-story office building across the street and to a home.

Wallace Offers Reward

Governor Wallace, at the request of city officials, offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the bombers.

None of the 50 bombings of Negro property here since World War II have been solved.

Mayor Boutwell and Chief of Police Jamie Moore expressed fear that the bombing, coming on top of tension aroused by desegregation of three schools last week, would bring further violence.

George G. Seibels Jr., chairman of the City Council's police committee, broadcast frequent appeals tonight to white parents, urging them to restrain their children from staging demonstrations tomorrow. He said a repetition of the segregationist motorcades that raced through the streets last Thursday and Friday "could provoke serious trouble, resulting in possible death or injury."

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrived tonight by plane from Atlanta. He had led Negroes, who make up almost one-third of Birmingham's population, in a five-week campaign last spring that brought some lunch-counter desegregation and improved job opportunities. The bombed church had been used as the staging point by Negro demonstrators.

Curfew Plan Rejected

Col. Albert J. Lingo, State director of Public Safety and commander of the troopers, met with Mayor Boutwell and the City Council in emergency session. They discussed imposition of a curfew, but decided against it.

The bombing came five days after the desegregation of three previously all-white schools in Birmingham. The way had been cleared for the desegregation when President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and the Federal courts issued a sweeping order against Governor Wallace, thus ending his defiance toward the integration step.

The four girls killed in the blast had just heard Mrs. Ella C. Demand, their teacher, complete the Sunday school lesson for the day. The subject was "The Love That Forgives."

During the period between the class and an assembly in the main auditorium, they went to the women's lounge in the basement, at the northeast corner of the church.

The blast occurred at about 10:25 A.M. (12:25 P.M. New York time).

Church members said they found the girls huddled together beneath a pile of masonry debris.

Parents of 3 Are Teachers

Both parents of each of three of the victims teach in the city's schools. The dead were identified by University Hospital officials as:

Cynthia Wesley, 14, the only child of Claude A. Wesley, principal of the Lewis Elementary School, and Mrs. Wesley, a teacher there.

Denise McNair, 11, also an only child, whose parents are teachers.

Carol Robertson, 14, whose parents are teachers and whose grandmother, Mrs. Sallie Anderson, is one of the Negro members of a biracial committee established by Mayor Boutwell to deal with racial problems.

Addie Mae Collins, 14, about whom no information was immediately available.

The blast blew gaping holes through walls in the church basement. Floors of offices in the rear of the sanctuary appeared near collapse. Stairways were blocked by splintered window frames, glass and timbers.

Chief Police Inspector W. J. Haley said the impact of the blast indicated that at least 15 sticks of dynamite might have caused it. He said the police had talked to two witnesses who reported having seen a car drive by the church, slow down and then speed away before the blast.


Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company


http://nation.time.com/2013/09/12/the-bombing-of-the-16th-street-baptist-church/

On September 15, 1963, two and a half weeks after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a dynamite bomb set by members of the Ku Klux Klan erupted, just as twenty six children walked into the basement assembly room of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, were killed, and 22 others were injured. Photographs of the bombing’s aftermath–including the iconic image of blinded Sarah Jean Collins in her hospital bed–shocked the nation and helped give an emotional push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Prosecutor reflects on 50th anniversary of 1963 Birmingham bombing
September 14, 2013


It was 50 years ago this Sunday a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four girls: Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14.

Birmingham native G. Douglas Jones befriended the father of one of those girls, and about 40 years later, as a federal prosecutor, he convicted two of the Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the bombing.

Jones, 59, now a private lawyer, spoke with the Los Angeles Times on Friday about his memories of the bombing, the trials that followed and the legacy of the civil rights movement in his hometown.

What is it like in Birmingham today? Do you plan to attend any of the events this weekend marking the anniversary of the bombing?

It’s been a jam-packed couple of weeks. I’ve just been going from one event to the next. It’s a very exciting time—everything seems to be coming together culminating in the church service Sunday afternoon. The Congressional Black Caucus was in town, and I did a panel this morning with [former secretary of State and Birmingham native] Condoleezza Rice and moderated by Gayle King. Bill Cosby is in town for some events, and Spike Lee, who did the movie “Four Little Girls,” he’s going to show that.

It’s a very emotional time, an exciting time—people are really recognizing the significance of what happened in 1963, beginning with the children’s [civil rights] marches and culminating in the deaths of those four children.

What is your memory of the bombing? What was Birmingham like back then?

My personal memory is not what Birmingham was like. I was 9 years old in 1963, a white kid living out in suburbia, and so my life was a very segregated life, a sheltered life. I don’t have any recollections of that day—I knew there was things going on downtown, but I don’t have a recollection of the bombing.

Birmingham was two towns—a black town and a white town. It took me getting into junior high to see things changing. My elementary school was all white, but when I went to the seventh grade I for the first time went to a school that was integrated, and the kids started adapting, trying to work together.

It was years later, in 1977, that Alabama Atty. Gen. Bill Baxley convicted the first Klansman, Robert Chambliss, in connection with the bombing. You were a law student at Samford University outside Birmingham—do you remember that trial?

Baxley, the young attorney general at the time, was one of my heroes. I was a second-year student so I cut classes that week and went and watched Baxley’s argument—it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. The history, the power, that the law can change things for good, that public-service lawyers can have an effect on the world around you.

It was 20 years later that you became a federal prosecutor and convicted an additional two suspects, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry. How did that happen?

To finish the case that Bill had started in the same courtroom where I had watched as a kid was truly an amazing time.

The case got reopened a year or so before I became U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, appointed by Bill Clinton. Obviously, with the history that I had, I also had some personal history with the McNair family that lost their daughter Denise, the case moved to the top priority for me.

I got to know Chris McNair [the girl’s father] when I was in college, through my political work — I was a young college student involved in politics, he was a newly elected member of the Alabama legislature; he actually represented my area. I had known them for a long time.

They were different cases. With Blanton, we repackaged some of the old evidence and presented it. Cherry ran his mouth a lot. He was his own undoing.

What was it like interviewing the victims' families?

We didn’t initially do much interviewing with the families. I didn’t talk to Bill Baxley about the case either, even though we had been friends for years.

The reason was, I didn’t know if we could win the case, if we had the evidence, and I didn’t want to lose my objectivity. I was just afraid that one day, I might have to tell them I couldn’t do it.

So it was towards the end that we really started working with the families, got them prepped for trial. Ms. Robertson, she was like a saint—she died about two months after the Cherry case was over. I still miss her.

How did you get Cherry’s ex-wife, Willadean, to talk?

Ex-wives are always high on the prospective witness list, but nobody could find her.

In the fall of 1998, we decided to take the investigation in a little bit of a different direction and start calling people for the grand jury. It was no secret what we were doing, calling Klansmen to testify, and a reporter from Jackson, Miss., came and did a story about it.

Willadean read that story in a tiny little town in Montana and she called the FBI and said, “I need to come talk to you.” She drove a couple hundred miles to the nearest office. She just introduced us to her brother, who lived with them for a time; he was in Florida. We had a granddaughter who contacted us who was there at the kitchen table with him talking about the bombing at 16th Street Church. She was just an 11-year-old white kid sitting at the table with a Klansman—she was scared.

Cherry would brag about this to people. With the passage of time, he just got kind of empowered that nothing was going to happen.

How was he able to get away with it for so many years?

It was an open secret among friends. It was an open secret among family members. It was not something that people reported to law enforcement. It just took a full opening of the case and good investigative work to track that down.

What was some of the most powerful evidence and testimony you presented?

The most powerful testimony was the surviving victim, Sarah [Jean Collins Rudolph].

In the Blanton case, there was a tape, what was called “the kitchen tape,” an undercover tape made by the FBI who placed a bug under the kitchen sink of Blanton and his then-wife -- she was his girlfriend at the time of the bombing -- where she asks him where he was on the Friday night before the bombing when he stood her up, he broke a date with her. He says it three times, “We had the meeting to make the bomb”—he admitted it three times.

With Cherry, it was his admissions to family and friends. And I never underestimated the lies that he gave to law enforcement over the years.

You have said prosecuting the cases took an emotional toll on you—did it change the way you see Birmingham?

It changed the way I felt about the city for the positive. By the time we prosecuted these cases, all the bad about Birmingham was known—it was documented. But Birmingham had long before tried to not only put this behind us, but celebrate it with the civil rights museum and the renovating of the Birmingham Civil Rights District. It certainly put the city in a better light when juries, black and white, convicted these guys.

It was an emotionally draining case—it would drain you every day. But from that point on, it’s been nothing but uplifting. We’ve lost witnesses, we’ve lost Ms. Robinson, but the fact of the matter is there’s been so much celebration. Even today, 11 years after the fact, people still stop me and thank me for my service. It’s humbling to have been a part of that. To sit there in the halls of Washington, D.C., the other day and see these girls receive a Congressional Gold Medal is humbling.

This year marks a lot of 50th civil rights anniversaries—sad ones like the bombing, but uplifting ones, too, like the March on Washington. You have said you want people to remember the “hatefulness and viciousness” of that era. Why is that important, and what else should they remember?

In the next couple of years you’re going to see more—anniversaries of the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. I especially hope they mark the passage of the Voting Rights Act as it’s being dismantled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that came down this year. I believe we’re taking steps back with regards to civil rights. In legislatures across this country, I believe they are suppressing the rights of minorities to vote with voter ID laws and things of that nature.

On Sept. 15, 1963, hate prevailed over everything as four innocent children were killed. Once that happened, I think so much of America’s consciousness woke up and said, “Oh my God--this is not just a question of culture anymore, it’s a question of hate.” When you remember those deaths and the bombing, what you really think back and do is remember the changes and the catalyst. I think it was one of the things that caused Congress to act and caused the American people to start changing their hearts and minds.

This week in Birmingham is called “Empowerment Week,” and it’s because we are not just focusing on the past but on the future. I think that speaks volumes about not just, look at what we’ve done, but what are we doing. We need to continue expanding whether it’s gay rights, rights for the elderly or the disabled. By looking at the mistakes made by society in the past, maybe we won’t make them again.

So where will you be on Sunday?

The U.S. Attorney General [Eric H. Holder Jr.] and I are friends. I’m looking forward to seeing him and his wife on Sunday. [Former Atlanta mayor and congressman] Andrew Young, [civil rights leader] the Rev. Joseph Lowery—it’s just an exciting time.

Initially I will probably go to the church services—the first one is going to truly be a church service; my wife and I will attend. At about 12:30 p.m. I have to do a C-SPAN show live from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, then at 3 p.m. Birmingham time will be the big memorial where Holder will speak and Young will speak, and then we’ll have the dedication of the statue of the girls.


It was 50 years ago this Sunday a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four girls: Denise McNair, 11, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14.

Angela Davis Talks Movingly About the Horrific Racist Bombing of the 16th Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (her hometown) on September 15, 1963 that killed four black girls who were childhood friends of Angela and her sister. This is an excerpt from the critically acclaimed Swedish documentary "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975". Davis is being interviewed by a Swedish filmmaker during her incarceration in California State prison in 1972 before she was acquited and released in June 1972 after serving nearly two years in prison.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AG1P1VasTDE
 


Angela Davis T.B.P.M.
www.youtube.com

Video excerpt from the acclaimed Swedish documentary 'The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975'

Spike Lee w/ Bobby Rivers: "4 Little Girls":

Birmingham Bomb Kills 4 Negro Girls In Church; Riots Flare; 2 Boys Slain

Guard Summoned
Wallace Acts on City Plea for Help as 20 Are Injured
Wallace Orders Guardsmen Out

By Claude Sitton
Special to The New York Times

 

RELATED HEADLINES
 
Full-Scale F.B.I. Hunt On In Birmingham Bombing

Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 15--A bomb severely damaged a Negro church today during Sunday school services, killing four Negro girls and setting off racial rioting and other violence in which two Negro boys were shot to death.

Fourteen Negroes were injured in the explosion. One Negro and five whites were hurt in the disorders that followed.

Some 500 National Guardsmen in battle dress stood by at armories here tonight, on orders of Gov. George C. Wallace. And 300 state troopers joined the Birmingham police, Jefferson County sheriff's deputies and other law-enforcement units in efforts to restore peace.

Governor Wallace sent the guardsmen and the troopers in response to requests from local authorities.

Sporadic gunfire sounded in Negro neighborhoods tonight, and small bands of residents roamed the streets. Aside from the patrols that cruised the city armed with riot guns, carbines and shotguns, few whites were seen.

Fire Bomb Hurled

At one point, three fires burned simultaneously in Negro sections, one at a broom and mop factory, one at a roofing company and a third in another building. An incendiary bomb was tossed into a supermarket, but the flames were extinguished swiftly. Fire marshals investigated blazes at two vacant houses to see if arson was involved.

Mayor Albert Boutwell and other city officials and civic leaders appeared on television station WAPI late tonight and urged residents to cooperate in ending "this senseless reign of terror."

Sheriff Melvin Bailey referred to the day as "the most distressing in the history of Birmingham."

The explosion at the 16th Street Baptist Church this morning brought hundreds of angry Negroes pouring into the streets. Some attacked the police with stones. The police dispersed them by firing shotguns over their heads.

Johnny Robinson, a 16-year-old Negro, was shot in the back and killed by a policeman with a shotgun this afternoon. Officers said the victim was among a group that had hurled stones at white youths driving through the area in cars flying Confederate battle flags.

When the police arrived, the youths fled, and one policeman said he had fired low but that some of the shot had struck the Robinson youth in the back.

Virgil Wade, a 13-year-old Negro, was shot and killed just outside Birmingham while riding a bicycle. The Jefferson County sheriff's office said "there apparently was no reason at all" for the killing, but indicated that it was related to the general racial disorders.

Another Negro youth and a white youth were shot but not seriously wounded in separate incidents. Four whites, including a honeymooning couple from Chicago, were injured by stones while driving through the neighborhood of the bombing.

The bombing, the fourth such incident in less than a month, resulted in heavy damage to the church, to a two-story office building across the street and to a home.

Wallace Offers Reward

Governor Wallace, at the request of city officials, offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the bombers.

None of the 50 bombings of Negro property here since World War II have been solved.

Mayor Boutwell and Chief of Police Jamie Moore expressed fear that the bombing, coming on top of tension aroused by desegregation of three schools last week, would bring further violence.

George G. Seibels Jr., chairman of the City Council's police committee, broadcast frequent appeals tonight to white parents, urging them to restrain their children from staging demonstrations tomorrow. He said a repetition of the segregationist motorcades that raced through the streets last Thursday and Friday "could provoke serious trouble, resulting in possible death or injury."

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrived tonight by plane from Atlanta. He had led Negroes, who make up almost one-third of Birmingham's population, in a five-week campaign last spring that brought some lunch-counter desegregation and improved job opportunities. The bombed church had been used as the staging point by Negro demonstrators.

Curfew Plan Rejected

Col. Albert J. Lingo, State director of Public Safety and commander of the troopers, met with Mayor Boutwell and the City Council in emergency session. They discussed imposition of a curfew, but decided against it.

The bombing came five days after the desegregation of three previously all-white schools in Birmingham. The way had been cleared for the desegregation when President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and the Federal courts issued a sweeping order against Governor Wallace, thus ending his defiance toward the integration step.

The four girls killed in the blast had just heard Mrs. Ella C. Demand, their teacher, complete the Sunday school lesson for the day. The subject was "The Love That Forgives."

During the period between the class and an assembly in the main auditorium, they went to the women's lounge in the basement, at the northeast corner of the church.

The blast occurred at about 10:25 A.M. (12:25 P.M. New York time).

Church members said they found the girls huddled together beneath a pile of masonry debris.

Parents of 3 Are Teachers

Both parents of each of three of the victims teach in the city's schools. The dead were identified by University Hospital officials as:

Cynthia Wesley, 14, the only child of Claude A. Wesley, principal of the Lewis Elementary School, and Mrs. Wesley, a teacher there.

Denise McNair, 11, also an only child, whose parents are teachers.

Carol Robertson, 14, whose parents are teachers and whose grandmother, Mrs. Sallie Anderson, is one of the Negro members of a biracial committee established by Mayor Boutwell to deal with racial problems.

Addie Mae Collins, 14, about whom no information was immediately available.

The blast blew gaping holes through walls in the church basement. Floors of offices in the rear of the sanctuary appeared near collapse. Stairways were blocked by splintered window frames, glass and timbers.

Chief Police Inspector W. J. Haley said the impact of the blast indicated that at least 15 sticks of dynamite might have caused it. He said the police had talked to two witnesses who reported having seen a car drive by the church, slow down and then speed away before the blast.


Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company


http://nation.time.com/2013/09/12/the-bombing-of-the-16th-street-baptist-church/

On September 15, 1963, two and a half weeks after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a dynamite bomb set by members of the Ku Klux Klan erupted, just as twenty six children walked into the basement assembly room of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, were killed, and 22 others were injured. Photographs of the bombing’s aftermath–including the iconic image of blinded Sarah Jean Collins in her hospital bed–shocked the nation and helped give an emotional push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Baptist_Church_bombing

16th Street Baptist Church bombing
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
The four girls killed in the bombing (Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair)

Location 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama
Date    September 15, 1963;  10:22 a.m.
Attack type    Church bombing, mass murder, hate crime
Deaths    4
Injured (non-fatal)    22
Assailants    Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry
Motive    Racist hate crime


The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed on Sunday, September 15, 1963 as an act of racially motivated terrorism. The explosion at the African-American church, which killed four girls, marked a turning point in the U.S. 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Although city leaders had reached a settlement in May with demonstrators and started to integrate public places, not everyone agreed with ending racial segregation. Bombings and other acts of violence followed the settlement, and the church had become an obvious target. The three-story 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama had been a rallying point for civil rights activities through the spring of 1963, and was where the students who were arrested during the 1963 Birmingham campaign's Children's Crusade were trained. The church was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. Tensions were escalated when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) became involved in a campaign to register African Americans to vote in Birmingham.

Still, the campaign was successful. The demonstrations led to an agreement in May between the city's business leaders and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to integrate public facilities in the city.

Contents

1 Case
2 Reactions and aftermath
3 Later prosecutions
4 Remembrances
4.1 In film
4.2 In scupture
4.3 Poetry
4.4 Prose and plays
4.5 In music
4.6 In other works
5 See also
6 References
6.1 Further reading
7 External links

Case

In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton,[1]Herman Frank Cash, and Robert Chambliss, members of United Klans of America, a Ku Klux Klan group, planted a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the church, near the basement.[2] At about 10:22 a.m., twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” when the bomb exploded.[3][4] Four girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14), were killed in the attack,[5] and 22 additional people were injured, one of whom was Addie Mae Collins' younger sister, Sarah.[6] The explosion blew a hole in the church's rear wall, destroyed the back steps and all but one stained-glass window, which showed Christ leading a group of little children.[7]

Civil rights activists blamed George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, for the killings. Birmingham was a violent city and was nicknamed “Bombingham”, because the city had experienced more than 50 bombings in black institutions and homes since World War I.[8] Only a week before the bombing Wallace had told The New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a "few first-class funerals."[9]
A witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested but only charged with possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On October 8, 1963, Chambliss received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.[10] At the time, no federal charges were filed on Chambliss.[11]
 
The case was unsolved until Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. He requested the original Federal Bureau of Investigation files on the case and discovered that the FBI had accumulated evidence against the named suspects that had not been revealed to the prosecutors by order of J. Edgar Hoover. The files were used to reopen the case in 1971.[12]

In November 1977, the seemingly forgotten case of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing was brought to Court, where Chambliss, now aged 73, was tried once again and was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.[13] Chambliss died in Lloyd Noland Hospital and Health Center on October 29, 1985.[14]

On May 18, 2000, the FBI announced that the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing had been carried out by the Ku Klux Klan splinter group the Cahaba Boys. It was claimed that four men, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry had been responsible for the crime.[15] Cash was dead but Blanton and Cherry were arrested, and both have since been tried and convicted.[16]
Reactions and aftermath[edit source]

The explosions increased anger and tension, which were already high in Birmingham. Birmingham’s Mayor Albert Boutwell wept and said, “It is just sickening that a few individuals could commit such a horrible atrocity.” Two more black people were shot to death approximately seven hours following the Sunday morning bombing, 16-year-old Johnny Robinson and 13-year-old Virgil Ware. Robinson was shot by police, reportedly after they caught him throwing rocks at cars and he ignored orders to halt as he fled down an alley. Ware was "shot from ambush"[17] as he and his brother rode their bicycles in a residential suburb, 15 miles north of the city; UPI reported: "Two white youths seen riding a motorcycle in the area were sought by police."[17][18]

In spite of everything, the newly integrated schools continued to meet. Schools had been integrated the previous Tuesday with black and white children in the same classrooms for the first time in that city.[19]

As the news story about the four girls reached the national and international press, many felt that they had not taken the Civil Rights struggle seriously enough. A Milwaukee Sentinel editorial opined, “For the rest of the nation, the Birmingham church bombing should serve to goad the conscience. The deaths…in a sense are on the hands of each of us.”[20]

The city of Birmingham initially offered a $52,000 reward for the arrest of the bombers. Governor George Wallace, an outspoken segregationalist, offered an additional $5,000. However, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wired Wallace that "the blood of four little children ... is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder."[7]

Following the tragic event, white strangers visited the grieving families to express their sorrow. At the funeral for three of the girls (one family preferred a separate, private funeral), Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about life being "as hard as crucible steel." More than 8,000 mourners, including 800 clergymen of all races, attended the service. No city officials attended.[21] The bombing continued to increase worldwide sympathy for the civil rights cause. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ensuring equal rights of African Americans before the law.

Later prosecutions

FBI investigations gathered evidence pointing to four suspects: Robert Chambliss, Thomas E. Blanton Jr, Herman Cash, and Bobby Frank Cherry. According to a later report from the Bureau, “By 1965, we had serious suspects—namely, Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash, and Thomas E. Blanton, Jr., all KKK members—but witnesses were reluctant to talk and physical evidence was lacking. Also, at that time, information from our surveillances was not admissible in court. As a result, no federal charges were filed in the ’60s.”[11] Although Chambliss was convicted on an explosives charge, no convictions were obtained in the 1960s for the killings.
Alabama Attorney General William Baxley reopened the investigation after he took office in 1971, requesting evidence from the FBI and building trust with key witnesses who had been reluctant to testify in the first trial. The prosecutor had been a student at the University of Alabama when he heard about the bombing in 1963. “I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what.”[22]

In 1977 former Ku Klux Klansman Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss was indicted in the murder of all four girls, tried and convicted of the first-degree murder of Denise McNair, and sentenced to life in prison. He died eight years later in prison.[23]

Thomas E. Blanton, Jr. was tried in 2001 and found guilty at age 62 of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.[24]

Herman Cash died in 1994 without having been charged. Bobby Frank Cherry, also a former Klansman, was indicted in 2001 along with Blanton. Judge James Garrett of Jefferson County Circuit Court ruled "that Mr. Cherry's trial would be delayed indefinitely because a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation concluded that he was mentally incompetent.”[25] He was later convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison, and died in 2004.[26]

Remembrances:

In film

A 1997 documentary about the bombing, "4 Little Girls," directed by Spike Lee, was nominated for an Academy Award for "Best Documentary,

A 2002 television drama "Sins of the Father," directed by Robert Dornhelm, is based on the bombing.

Selma, Lord, Selma has a scene that talks about it.

In sculpture:


"That Which Might Have Been, Birmingham, 1963" by sculptor John Henry Waddell (The four girls depicted in symbolic terms, had they been allowed to mature to womanhood.)

http://www.artbyjohnwaddell.com/JHW/That_which_might_have_been.html

Poetry

The poem "American History" by Michael S. Harper, 1970.
The poem "The Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall.
The poem "Birmingham Sunday" by Langston Hughes.

Prose and plays

Four Spirits (2003), a novel by Sena Jeter Naslund, was adapted as a play (2006) by her and Elaine Hughes. The world premiere of the play was on February 7, 2008 at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The novel Song of Solomon (1977), by Toni Morrison, contains an allusion to this incident.

The novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 (1995), by Christopher Paul Curtis, conveys the events of the bombing.
The play, The Stick Wife (1987), by Darrah Cloud, is a fictional account behind the scenes of the bombing, focusing on the wives of the men involved. The play premiered at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in January, 1987.[27]

The novel Bombingham (2001), by Anthony Grooms, set in Birmingham in 1963, contains among other things a fictional account of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the shootings later that day.

Carolyn Maull McKinstry's memoir, While the World Watched (2011), provides an eyewitness account of the bombing, the events leading up to it (e.g., the anonymous phone calls made to the church, some of which warned that a bomb would go off, and when), and the climate and life at that time in Birmingham, specifically, and in the Jim Crow South, more generally, as the publisher describes: "from the bombings, riots and assassinations to the historic marches and triumphs that characterized the Civil Rights movement."[28]

The play, Countdown to Boom (2013), written and directed by Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, co-directed and choreographed by Kariamu Welsh, is a fictional account of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama. The play premiered at the Temple Performing Arts Center in April, 2013.[29]

The play, The Colored Museum (1986), by George C. Wolfe contains a reference to the bombing in the opening monologue.

In music

The song "Birmingham Sunday", composed by Richard Farina and most famously recorded by Joan Baez in 1964, chronicled the events and aftermath of the bombing.[30]

The song "Mississippi Goddam" was composed and sung by Nina Simone in reaction to the racially-motivated bombings.

The song "Alabama" on John Coltrane's Live at Birdland (recorded November 18, 1963) served as an elegy to the bombing.

The song "American Guernica" by Adolphus Hailstork.

The song "Coded Language" by Saul Williams.

The song "Bear It Away" from the album Wandering Strange by Kate Campbell, was based on this incident.

Phil Ochs - "Golden Ring".

The song "Heart" on Rocky Rivera's self-titled debut album.
The song "Ronnie and Neil" on the Drive-By Truckers' album Southern Rock Opera includes the line "church blows up in Birmingham, four little black girls killed, for no goddamn good reason".

The song "Birmingham Jail" by Chatham County Line on the album IV.

The song "Never Would Have Made It" by Marvin Sapp gives remembrance to the four girls lost.

The song "We Are Alive", by Bruce Springsteen on his Wrecking Ball album, makes mention of the bombing.
The second verse of song "For Women" by Ursula Rucker.
In other works

The "Welsh Window" in the church, itself, was sculpted by John Petts, who also initiated a campaign in Wales to raise money to help rebuild the church. The stained glass window depicts a black man, arms outstretched, reminiscent of the Crucifixion of Jesus, and is inscribed: "Given by The People of Wales".[31]

On May 24, 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 360 from the 113th United States Congress, a bill which awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley to commemorate the lives they lost in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.[32] The gold medal was given to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to display or loan out to other museums.[32]
See also[edit source]

Alabama portal
African American portal
Christianity portal
1960s portal

African-American history
African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968)
Birmingham campaign
Congressional gold medal award to victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing (H.R. 360; 113th Congress)
James Bevel
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mass racial violence in the United States
Edgar Nixon
Timeline of the African-American Civil Rights Movement
The Ballad of Birmingham

References:

Jump up ^ http://global.factiva.com/redir/default.aspx?P=sa&an=nytf000020010712dx5200m2b&cat=a&ep=ASE
Jump up ^ Bilal R. Muhammad (2011). The African American Odyssey. books.google.com. ISBN 978-1467035132.
Jump up ^ University of California, Los Angeles.

"BIRMINGHAM CHURCH BOMBED". ucla.edu. Retrieved 2013-06-28.

Jump up ^ "Father Recalls Deadly Blast At Ala. Baptist Church". npr.org. September 15, 2008.

Jump up ^ United States House of Representatives (April 24, 2013). "AWARDING CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL TO ADDIE MAE COLLINS, DENISE McNAIR, CAROLE ROBERTSON, AND CYNTHIA WESLEY". beta.congress.gov.

Jump up ^ "16th Street Baptist Church Bombing: Forty Years Later, Birmingham Still Struggles with Violent Past". National Public Radio: All Things Considered. 2003-09-15. Retrieved 22 November 2010.

^ Jump up to: a b "Six Dead After Church Bombing". Washington Post. 1963-0-16. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
Jump up ^ "New Bomb Blast Hits Birmingham". The Miami News. 1963-09-25.

Jump up ^ "Columns: Drawn back to Birmingham".
Jump up ^ N.Y. Times Oct. 9, 1963.
^ Jump up to: a b "FBI: A Byte Out of History: The ’63 Baptist Church Bombing". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Archived from the original on 13 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-21.

Jump up ^ Clary, Mike (2001-04-14). "Birmingham's Painful Past Reopened". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-02-17.

Jump up ^ Anderson, S. Willoughby, "The Past on Trial: Birmingham, the Bombing, and Restorative Justice," California Law Review, 96/2, (April 2008):482.

Jump up ^ "Robert E. Chambliss, Figure in '63 Bombing." The New York Times. Dated October 30, 1985. Retrieved August 29, 2013. "Robert Edward Chambliss... who was convicted of murder in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church... died yesterday in a hospital in Birmingham."
Jump up ^

http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/2000/05/22/ghosts.html

Jump up ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1395117/Klansman-convicted-of-killing-black-girls.html

^ Jump up to: a b William O. Bryant (September 11, 1963). "Six Negro Children Killed in Alabama". The Times News (United Press International). Retrieved 6 September 2012.
Jump up ^ "Six Dead After Church Bombing Blast Kills Four Children; Riots Follow; Two Youths Slain; State Reinforces Birmingham Police". The Washington Post (United Press International). September 16, 1963. Retrieved 6 September 2012.

Jump up ^ "Six Negro Children Killed in Alabama Sunday". The Times-News, Hendersonville, NC. 1963-09-11. Retrieved 2010-11-21.

Jump up ^ "Nation’s Shame". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 1963-09-16. Retrieved 2010-11-21.

Jump up ^ "We Shall Overcome Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 17 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
Jump up ^ Jenkins, Ray (1977-11-21). "Birmingham Church Bombing Conviction Ended an Obsession of the Prosecutor". The Day (New London, Connecticut). Retrieved 2010-11-21.
Jump up ^ "Klansman Guilty in Death". The Pittsburgh Press. 1977-11-19. Retrieved 2010-11-21.

Jump up ^ "Former Klansman faces prison in 1963 Killings". The Vindicator. 2001-05-02. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
Jump up ^ Sack, Kevin (2001-04-25). "As Church Bombing Trial Begins in Birmingham, the City's Past Is Very Much Present". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
Jump up ^ O'Donnell, Michelle (2004-11-19). "Bobby Frank Cherry, 74, Klansman in Bombing, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-05.

Jump up ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1987-01-17/entertainment/ca-5072_1_stage-manager
Jump up ^ While the World Watched - Carolyn Maull McKinstry, with Denise George. Tyndale House Publishers. 2/1/2011. ISBN 9781414353036.

Jump up ^ http://templeperformingartscenter.org/events/2013/countdown-boom-we-all-fall-down
Jump up ^ Joan Baez sings "Birmingham Sunday>" link includes lyrics.

Jump up ^ Gary Younge. "The Wales Window of Alabama". Nicola Swords.
^ Jump up to: a b "H.R. 360 - Summary". United States Congress. Retrieved 30 May 2013.

Further reading:

Branch, Taylor (1988). Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-68742-5.

Sikora, Frank (April 1991). Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-0520-3.
Cobbs, Elizabeth H.; Smith, Petric J. (April 1994). Long Time Coming: An Insider's Story of the Birmingham Church Bombing that Rocked the World. Birmingham, Alabama: Crane Hill. ISBN 1-881548-10-4.

Hamlin, Christopher M. (1998). Behind the Stained Glass: A History of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Birmingham, AL: Crane Hill

External links:

Online archives at the Birmingham Public Library, including the investigation and trial
Online History
Additional Information
http://www.artbyjohnwaddell.com/JHW/That_which_might_have_been.html