Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Birmingham Church Bombing: the murders that shocked the nation

(Nathan Stripling is an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at South Middle School during the 2007-2008 school year.)

“The Sept. 15, 1963, bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was one of the most abhorrent crimes of the civil rights movement.” It all started out on a nice day, the early morning of September 15, 1963. It seemed as if it was going to be a peaceful day, but it was not as they intended it. Ku Klux Klan member Robert Edward Chambliss stood just a few blocks away from the church. “He had been seen earlier getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box right under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which later, obviously turned out to be a bomb.” On this morning, four innocent young girls were in the middle of changing into their church robes in the basement of the church. Eleven year old Denise McNair, and fourteen year olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were the girls that were killed. (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm) Twenty other people were also injured along with those four girls. (World Book Encyclopedia, page 87, copyright 1987)
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had served as an important part of the African-American community and was used as a meeting place during the civil rights movement. It was also used for mass rallies and Martin Luther King Jr. was among the many leaders who spoke at these events. “It had also been the headquarters for several desegregation protests.” (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm) (World Book Encyclopedia, page 87, copyright 1987)
“When the church was bombed, it was a sign of the hostility that the segregationists had against the civil rights struggle.” Even though the bomb was a big surprise to most, many bomb threats had been made in the past. But, this time, no threat was made. A hole was blown in the east side of the church. It shattered many windows, along with walls, and doors. “Even the air was filled with a thick cloud of dust and soot, and as community members dug through the debris in search of survivors, they discovered the bodies of the four girls.”(http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm)
There was so much grief between the African-American community and white strangers that heard of the tragic incident. “At the funeral of three of the girls, Martin Luther King gave the eulogy, which was witnessed by 8,000 mourners, both white and black.”(http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm)
“The FBI led the initial investigation into the bombing.” “According to a 1965 FBI memorandum to director J. Edgar Hoover, it was determined that Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash, and Thomas E. Blanton Jr. had planted the bomb at the church.” “Based on the investigation, the Birmingham FBI office recommended prosecuting the suspects.” “Hoover, however, blocked their prosecution by rejecting the recommendation that the federal receive the testimony that identified the suspects. By 1968, charges had not yet been filed against the suspects. Therefore, the FBI decided to close the case. (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm)
But, in 1971, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley decided to reopen the case for further investigation. “On November 18, 1977, Robert Chambliss was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.” “The case was once again reopened in 1988 and in July 1997, after the FBI received a tip.” “Herman Frank Cash was still one of the prime suspects, but before a case could be established against him, he died in 1994.” (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm)
“On May 17, 2000, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were charged with the murder of the four girls.” “Blanton was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison on May 1, 2001.” “For the jurors who convicted him, the 1964 taped conversations that the FBI secretly recorded, weighed heavily on their decision.” “The tapes had remained secret until 1997, when the case was reopened. In one recorded conversation that took place between Blanton and his wife, Blanton told her that he was at the Klan meeting where both the bombing was planned and where the bomb was first made.” “In another recorded conversation, Blanton spoke about the bombing to an FBI informant while driving in a car.” “For the jurors, the taped conversations provided enough evidence to convict Thomas Blanton Jr. of murder.” (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm)
Bobby Frank Cherry also had a trial, but it was postponed after the judge had ruled that he was mentally unstable to assist his attorney. After the judge ruled he was ready to assist his attorney, and was competent to stand trial, he was found guilty of four counts of murder. On May 22, 2002, he was sentenced to life in prison. “For the family and friends of the four murdered girls, the conviction of Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry was a very long awaited victory. It was great for them to see those two crooks put behind bars for the rest of their lives. (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm)
On the dreadful day of the bombing, 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, which turned out to be a bomb. “Soon afterwards, at 10:22 a.m., the bomb exploded, killing Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. One source says 20 were injured, but the other says that 23 people were injured. Either way, this was a horrible crime that never should have been committed in the first place.
(http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmjustice3.html) (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/16thstreetbaptistchurch/a/16streetbombing.htm)
Robert Chambliss, who was tried and had been sentenced to life in prison in November 1977, died in an Alabama prison on October 29, 1985. (http://www.english.uiuc.edu/map/poets/m_r/randall/birmingham.htm)
“On May 17, 2000, the FBI announced that the Sixteenth Street 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 Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry had been responsible for the crime. Herman Cash was dead but Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were arrested, but only Thomas Blanton Jr. has been since tried and convicted with the murder of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. (http://www.english.uiuc.edu/map/poets/m_r/randall/birmingham.htm)
Robert Chambliss died in jail before the police got him to fully confess to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, along with the murder of the four girls. Bobby Frank Cherry died in prison in 2004. “One of the prosecutors in the case, Robert Posey, said Cherry has worn the crime like a badge of honor.” (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmjustice3.html)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a question. What is the title for this article?