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16th Street Baptist Church bombing

The four girls killed in the bombing (Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair)

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by violent racists on Sunday, September 15, 1963. 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 segregation. Bombings and other acts of violence followed the settlement, and the church had become an inviting target. The three-story Sixteenth 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, Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. Tensions became high 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 African-American leaders and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to integrate public facilities in the country.

In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, 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. 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. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), were killed in the attack, and 22 additional people were injured, one of whom was Addie Mae Collins' younger sister, Sarah.[1] 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.[2]

Contents

[edit] Case

On Sunday, 15 September, 1963, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Soon afterwards, at 10:22 a.m., the bomb exploded killing Denise McNair (11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14). The four girls had been attending Sunday school classes at the church. Twenty-two other people were also hurt by the blast. Civil rights activists blamed George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, for the killings. Nicknamed “Bombingham,” the city had had more than 40 bombings since WWI [3]Only a week before the bombing he had told The New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a "few first-class funerals."

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 and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On 8 October, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.

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 organization had accumulated a great deal of evidence against Chambliss that had not been used in the original trial. In November, 1977 Chambliss was tried once again for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. Now aged 73, Chambliss was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Chambliss died in an Alabama prison on 29 October, 1985.

On 17 May, 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. Cash was dead but Blanton and Cherry were arrested and Blanton has since been tried and convicted.

[edit] Reactions and aftermath

The explosions increased anger and tension, which was 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 people died in the hours following the Sunday morning bombing, including a 16-year-old african-American boy shot by police after he was caught throwing rocks at cars and refused to stop for police officers.

In spite of everything, the newly-integrated schools continued to meet. School had been integrated the previous Tuesday with black and white children in the same classrooms for the first time in that city. [4]

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. 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.”[5]

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." [2]

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.[6] 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.

[edit] 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.” [7]Although Chambliss was convicted on an explosives charge, no convictions were obtained for the killings in the 1960s.

Alabama Attorney General William Baxley reopened the investigation after he took office in 1971, requesting evidence from the FBI and and building trust with key witnesses who had been reluctant to testify in the first trial. The prosecutor had been 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.” [8]

In 1977 former Ku Klux Klansman Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss was indicted in the murder of all 4 girls, tried and convicted of the first degree murder of Denise McNail, and sentenced to life in prison. He died eight years later in prison.[9]

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.[10]

Herman Cash, died in 1994 without being charged. Bobby Frank Cherry, also a former Klansman, was indicted [in 2001] along with Mr. 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.” [11]

[edit] Remembrances

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 2005

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "16th Street Baptist Church Bombing: Forty Years Later, Birmingham Still Struggles with Violent Past". September 15, 2003. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1431932. 
  2. ^ a b "Six Dead After Church Bombing". Washington Post. September 16, 1963. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/churches/archives1.htm. Retrieved November 21, 2010. 
  3. ^ "New Bomb Blast Hits Birmingham". The Miami News. September 25, 1963. 
  4. ^ "Six Negro Children Killed in Alabama Sunday". The Times-News, Hendersonville, NC. September 11, 1963. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=TEMaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XCMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7126,662830&dq=church+bombing+birmingham&hl=en. Retrieved November 21, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Nation’s Shame". The Milwaukee Sentinel. September 16, 1963. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=RMsVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wRAEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3102,307586&dq=church+bombing+birmingham+nation's+shame&hl=en. Retrieved November 21, 2010. 
  6. ^ "We Shall Overcome Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement". http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  7. ^ "FBI: A Byte Out of History: The ’63 Baptist Church Bombing". http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2007/september/bapbomb_092609. Retrieved November 21, 2010. 
  8. ^ Ray Jenkins (November 21, 1977). "Birmingham Church Bombing Conviction Ended an Obsession of the Prosecutor". The Day (New London, Connecticut). http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=zAoiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qnIFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1080,4019968&dq=church+bombing+birmingham&hl=en. Retrieved November 21, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Klansman Guilty in Death". The Pittsburgh Press. November 19, 1977. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=dDYcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OloEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1601,1317883&hl=en. Retrieved November 21, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Former Klansman faces prison in 1963 Killings". The Vindicator. May 2, 2001. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=bQtJAAAAIBAJ&sjid=EoMMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1047,410583&dq=church+bombing+birmingham+blanton&hl=en. 
  11. ^ Kevin Sack (April 25, 2001). "As Church Bombing Trial Begins in Birmingham, the City's Past Is Very Much Present". http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10617FA3C5D0C768EDDAD0894D9404482. Retrieved November 21, 2010. 

[edit] 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, AL: 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, AL: 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

[edit] External links

Coordinates: 33â°31′0″N 86â°48′54″Wο»¿ / ο»¿33.516667â°N 86.815â°Wο»¿ / 33.516667; -86.815



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