Monday, January 21, 2008
The death of four little girls
By MACKENSZEE ROBERTS
(MacKenszee Roberts was an eighth grader at South Middle School during the 2005-2006 school year.)
“Well, each one of them had their own distinct personalities, but they were all wonderful children, happy, potential for such great things, and those were just really good times for us.”, this comes from Carolyn McKinstry, a childhood friend of the four African American girls that died in the Birmingham Church Bombing of ’63. While participating in an interview relating to the bombing, Lisa McNair, one of the victims’ sisters, explained how, because of the bomb, didn’t ever have a chance to meet her sister, Denise McNair.
It all happened on Sunday, September 15, 1963, a day like any other in Birmingham, Alabama. As children were attending Sunday school in the basement of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church a bomb went off shortly after 10 a.m. The most remembered victims of the blast were Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, all the age of 14, except Denise who was 11 at the time. The reasons why these victims are remembered well are because all four lost their lives that terrible day. As well as the four girls, twenty-three other people were hurt by the bomb and the shards of glass coming from the decimated windows of the church. *A few days before the bombing, courts ordered desegregation within Birmingham’s schools. So a few people thought that was why the church was bombed.
Before the bombing occurred, the church was used as a meeting place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy, and Fred Shutterworth. The people of the city were losing patience as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) were starting to work on getting the right for African Americans to vote in Birmingham. Could this be enough reason for bombing a church?
Witnesses to the crime say they saw a man placing a box beneath the church’s front steps just minutes before the blast actually took place. One witness described a man named Robert Chambliss as the man who placed the box beneath the steps. Chambliss received a six-month jail sentence and a one hundred dollar fine for having the dynamite, hardly enough to pay for a priceless life. Not until 1977 was Chambliss actually found guilty and charged with the murder of Denise McNair, only one of the girls, but better than nothing. He lived the rest of his life in prison until the 29th of October in ’85. He didn’t even spend 10 years of his sentence locked up in prison!
On the 17th of May in 2000 the FBI released the information that the splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan called the Cahaba Boys were behind the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Others involved in the bombing were Thomas E. Blanton, Bobby Frank Cherry, and Herman Cash. Both Blanton and Cherry were convicted and arrested, but Cash had died just before trial. During Cherry’s trial, some of the victims’ relatives listened while Cherry’s own family gave evidence in the girls favor. Cherry’s granddaughter had said that Cherry would boast and say, “Helped blow up a bunch of niggers back in Birmingham.” He also had bragged about punching Fred Shutterworth with knuckle dusters and said, “bopped ol’ Shutterworth in the head.” It also helped the case because Cherry was a demolitions expert while he was in the Marines.
The case was finally brought to an end when Cherry was convicted. It was said the reason he helped bomb the church was to turn back the civil rights movement. Also because the church was a meeting place for the civil rights leaders as I have stated earlier. The jury for Cherry consisted of nine whites and 3 blacks, all of whom considered Cherry guilty after the family’s evidence and the evidence that was recovered over 10 years after the bombing. Thomas Blanton was convicted just before Cherry.
Robert Chambliss, the first convicted, was said to be the ringleader of the men while performing this horrible sin. Many people testified against Chambliss during his trial, of these, four were most helpful to the case. First, Mrs. Yvonne Young, she had said she visited the Chambliss home around two weeks before the bombing and had seen some weird things in the house. She said she had asked to use the restroom and went to the door and instead of a bathroom she said she saw what looked to be, “three or four bundles that looked like oversized firecrackers bound together by masking tape.” She also said Chambliss became very angry when she saw the inside of the strange room.
Secondly, Mrs. Cobbs’ testimony helped a lot too. She had been at Chambliss’ home just a week before the bombing occurred. She said that they had been talking about an incident where a white woman was cut with a knife by a black youth, when Chambliss got very angry and started on about how everything would be settled if he had his way. On another testimony, Mrs. Cobbs said she had gone to the Chambliss home and when the bombing was on the television set, Chambliss had said, “It went off at the wrong time. No one was supposed to get hurt.”
After those two testimonies, Cantrell testified that Chambliss had been talking about how he knew how to make fuses for bombs. Also, William Jackson testified against both Chambliss and Blanton about being in charge of the Cahaba Boys and being only a few blocks away from the church half a day before the bombing.
After forty years, the four men, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash, Bobby Cherry, and Robert Chambliss were brought to justice. Most of the documents about the crime weren’t even found until twenty years after the bombing. The Birmingham Church Bombing was one of the worst crimes done in all the years of the Civil Rights Movement. They may have stopped Birmingham from being a meeting place for leaders, but they were never close to stopping the Civil Rights leading up to today’s equality among men, women, and children alike.