Friday, March 30, 2012

Civil rights workers died young, but brought changes to U. S.

(The author is an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at Joplin East Middle School.)
Three men were murdered on June 21, 1964, at 10:15 pm in Neshoba County, Mississippi. They were driving along the road when a police officer named Ceil Bryans pulled over the Ford station wagon.  When a mob attacked the car and dragged James Chaney an African American out of the car and was beaten brutally then shot three times. Schwerner was taken out of the car and through the heart, next was the murder of Andrew Goodman. Next the mob poured a quart of gas on the station wagon and lit it on fire. The murders took a bulldozer and buried the bodies at a near by dam hoping none would never find them.

James Chaney was driving down a back road in Neshoba County, which is dangerous territory for an African American activist. A person who spoke out against a white person would not be seen ever again alive. The FBI wouldn't protect the activists for the Freedom Summer so everyone had to be careful what they did or said so they would be alive the next day.  Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman had been in a training facility in Oxford, Ohio training college age people for protesting and helping the African Americans register to vote. ( and one of the churches in Neshoba County had been burned down by the Ku Klux Klan when they were looking for Michael Schwerner because they didn't like that he had help many African Americans register to vote during the Freedom Summer of 1964.  On their way back from the burned down church the activist were pulled over for speeding and then were incarcerated the local jail for the arson of the black church they had just visited to take in the damage of the bombing and were held for a few hours while the Ku Klux Klan gathered to murder the activists and showed them a picture of the Ford station wagon James Chaney had been driving. One of the police officers that arrested James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner was part of the Ku Klux Klan.  One of their friends back in Oxford, Ohio, was worried and was telephoning everyone looking for where the missing activists had gone. Michael Schwerner asked the officer so he could tell his wife where he was. ( She finally phoned the CORE and got James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner released from their imprisonment. The activists sped for Oxford, Ohio on Highway 19 trying not to be caught at night in Neshoba County home to many Ku Klux Klan members. The mob of Ku Klux Klan had been gathering on Highway 19 for several hours just waiting for the activists and arguing such a sick thing as who gets to shoot whom first. The Ku Klux Klan intercepted the Ford station wagon and dragged out James Chaney the African American, who was driving, beat him then shot him three times wanting him to suffer for just having a different skin color than the "dominant" race. Next restraining Andrew Schwerner knowing what he was going to receive for doing the right thing a standing up for the African Americans of the world. This brave activist was shot through the heart, then Andrew Goodman's murder. I imagine that the Ku Klux Klan members watched Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner's blood drain onto the dirty street. The only problem the Ku Klux Klan had was the car so they got a quart of gasoline and drenched the car with it then lit it with a match and watched it burn. The Ku Klux Klan hid the bodies in a dam where they laid there for about three months decomposing. ( The FBI spent $800,000 interviewing some of the townspeople and some of the Ku Klux Klan members, and they finally found out the details of the night of the murder of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. (Page 270 of Freedom Summer) After the murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner a New York Times reporter wrote this poem:

"Here's to the state of Mississippi.
For underneath her borders, the devil draws no lines,
If you drag her muddy rivers, nameless bodies you will find.
The fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes.
And the calendar is lying when it reads the present time.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of,
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be a part of."

(Page 247 of the book Freedom Summer)
Here is another quote from Matt Jones of SNCC's Freedom Singers.

"We have our head and cried,
Cried for those like Lee who died
Died for you and died for me,
Died for the cause of equality,
But we will never turn back
Until we've all been free
And we have equality,
And we have equality.

(From the book We Are Not Afraid on the page 33)
Ben Chaney James Chaney's brother said that the funeral was very sad and he wants to follow in his brother's footsteps in standing up for his fellow citizen's right to vote. (

The Trial

In the first trial there was a hung jury because one of the jurors couldn't convict a preacher Edgar Ray Killen the mastermind of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner who was a Ku Klux Klan member.  On the second trial they convicted Edgar Ray Killen of three accounts of manslaughter. This was a lesser charge. He was convicted of the maximum sentence of sixty years in prison and Edgar Ray Killen is still in prison today. While Edgar Ray Killen was in jail he confessed to a multitude of unsolved crimes that involved his racism. (
The civil rights era has influenced the present greatly. If James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had not stood up for what they believed in then we might not have equal rights today. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner are hero for what they did to influence our world today.


Watson, Bruce- Freedom Sumer – Hudson Street, New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2010

Huie, Williams- Three Lives for Mississippi. Press of Mississippi/ Jackson: WWE Books, 1965.

Selma to Montgomery- The March for Voting Rights

(The author is an eighth grade student in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at Joplin East Middle School.)          

        A life started it all.  Not a life beginning, but a life ending, a life being taken away.  It started a revolution.  It started a revolution so big, that the impact was made at a very great price.  At least three lives were taken that year, the year of 1965.  Many peaceful citizens were arrested, beaten, and assaulted while marching on the pathway to equality, to the city of Montgomery, Alabama.  Join this paper as it travels back to the year of 1965, when protestors of all races and religions united together as one to make the long march from Selma, Alabama to the capitol city of Montgomery as they fought for voting rights among all.

The Beginning of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign
            “Click.” The bullet is released from the state trooper’s gun as it lands in the body of twenty-six-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson.  His unconscious body falls to the ground, leaving his poor mother unprotected from a trooper’s nightstick.  He is rushed to a nearby Selma hospital, but unfortunately, dies eight days later.  His life was one of many that inspired protestors and civil rights activists to take action and put a stop to the injustice being done in the nation of the “free” when he was shot on the evening of February 18, 1965.  Jackson was an African American church deacon from the town of Marion, Alabama, who decided to join in one of the public voting marches taking place.  There, he was shot.  On the other side of the gun stood an Alabama state trooper, trying to break up the march.  On his side was a young man lying cold on the ground.  This wasn’t the first violent action displayed in the voting rights marches; it was one of many since the first march that took place on February 1, 1965.

            On January 2, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Dallas County Voters League in their campaign for voting rights.  After a number of unsuccessful attempts from the SNCC, only two percent of the black population was on voting polls. The SCLC had been planning a campaign since the earlier months of 1964 with a focus on national attention when discovering that this attention could be gained through protests.  With the help of Martin Luther King Jr. and David Abernathy from the SCLC, a march from the town of Selma, Alabama, to the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, was organized.  The committees chose the town of Selma, because this town was known for hard-core, violent law enforcement under the order of local county Sheriff Jim Clark.  When the SCLC marched in Birmingham, they learned that unprovoked violence would gain attention.  Thus, this was their key.  Hopefully, in the minds of the civil rights workers, President Lyndon B. Johnson would see the cruelty being done and consider making a new voting rights legislation.  This, along with the reaction from the nation when seeing the Alabama news coverage, would start a new era.

(Garrow 1-4)

            Many small marches were held in the month of January as the progression of the campaign in Selma and Marion increased; many marchers were arrested, but there was little violence for the first month of the campaign.  It wasn’t until February that police attacks against peaceful protestors increased and became very forceful.  On February 1, 1965, the first march from Selma to Montgomery was attempted with seven hundred seventy people being arrested as the march was stopped by police officers.  This was the very beginning of the revolution.

Bloody Sunday
March 7, 1965 marked a day in history to be remembered for generations to come.  On this day, hundreds of protesters both black and white were attacked by Alabama state troopers and police.  They were beaten, hit, and tortured with tear gas, a toxic that causes people to vomit and become nauseating.  This gruesome event became known as “Bloody Sunday,” because indeed, it was quite bloody. 

            The day started out like any normal day, with a clear blue sky and a few purple clouds here and there.  Only, it wasn’t a normal day.  On this day, a march was to be held in honor of Jimmie Lee Jackson and to protest his death during a voter registration drive held previously by the SNCC.  The march was originally planned to be led by Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  But, as it turned out, Dr. King could not attend the march due to many missed church services and the need of a sermon; he had also received many death threats and was convinced by his staff not to come.  At half past noon, two hundred fifty marchers were already gathered around Brown’s Chapel, ready to face any danger.  They were being taught by SCLC staffers a technique of kneeling and protecting their bodies if ever attacked.  King had sent a messenger, Andy Young of the SCLC, to give word to co-leaders Hosea Williams, James Bevel, and John Lewis that the march was to be delayed until the following Monday.  Seeing that the march could not be stopped, a call was made to Dr. King and it was decided young John Lewis, along with another co-leader, would lead the great march.  Andy, Hosea, and Bevel flipped coins to see who would join Lewis, and by fate, Hosea won.  And so, the march was assembled.  Many protestors had come straight from church and were still wearing their Sunday outfits.  The Medical Committee for Human Rights had also traveled to Selma from New York to prepare for any confrontation and injuries.  Rumor had it that Sheriff Clark had issued a call for more deputies the night before.  Around four in the afternoon, the marchers were gathered as John Lewis read a statement for the benefit of the press and Andy Young said a small prayer as everybody knelt.  Next thing you know, six hundred people set out to be “roughed up a little bit,” expecting nothing worse than that…

(Lewis 323-325)

            The six hundred marchers, including a white SCLC staffer by the name of Al Lingo, marched east out of Selma onto Highway U.S. Route 80.  As they passed through the black sections of town, cheering and singing could be heard from several onlookers and marchers, but as the march branched out towards the river and down Walter Street, a silence was flushed over the crowd as a feeling of holiness replaced the noisy excitement possessed before.  The march was very disciplined; there was no pushing or shoving to get to the front.  The protestors were organized in two rows, with John Lewis and Hosea Williams at the front, Albert Turner and Bob Mants behind them, Marie Foster and Amelia Boynton behind them, and a crowd of people of all ages and races filed in the back. 

(Lewis 325)

Actually, at the very back, four ambulances followed along in case of any violation to the protestors.  As the march neared the edge of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a group of armed white men could be seen gathered around a nearby building.  This was not a surprise to the marchers, but quite a few other surprises were definitely made.   Clear across the other side of the bridge was a swarm of uniformed Alabama state troopers.  Among that swarm of cops was a group of deputies that Sheriff Clark called his “posse.” Some were on horseback, while others just stood, but they all had clubs that could very well be compared to baseball bats.  Camera crews and news reporters form channels such as ABC were wedged in where there was space, and cop cars were lined along the bridge; one of them holding Commander Al Lingo and Sheriff Clark, himself.  The marchers continued silently onto the bridge, but they didn’t get very far.  About fifty feet away from the swarm of troopers, Major John Cloud, another trooper, held a bullhorn to his mouth as he spoke a message to the civil rights marchers.  Apparently, they had two minutes to disperse back to their church and homes.  If not, physical force would be used.  At this time, several troopers slid masks onto their faces.  The marchers, not sure what to do, stood there until Mr. Lewis proposed the idea that they should kneel and pray, which is what they did.  Less than a minute after the warning, Major Cloud gave troopers the order to advance.  What happened next was total chaos.  Troopers came forward swinging bullwhips, billy clubs, nightsticks, shooting guns and even spraying tear gas.  The effect of this was almost immediate.  The marchers had no chance to retreat, and people began choking, coughing, vomiting, weeping, and worse.  Leader John Lewis was swung against the left side of his head with a club, a young teen had a huge flow of blood out the side of his head, and many women were lying on the nearby grass, such as Ms. Amelia Boynton.  While this occurred, many protestors curled up in the “prayer for protection” position, covering what they could.  Several white onlookers cheered, while the blacks kept quiet.  The torture didn’t end until the mob of marchers pushed to the front of the bridge and were chased all the way back to Brown’s Chapel. 

(Lewis 325- 329)

Turnaround Tuesday
            On Tuesday, March 9, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led a march, only to be turned around.  Thus, came its nickname, “Turnaround Tuesday.”  After what had happened the previous Sunday, the civil rights activists decided to go to court with their case and plea for armed forces to protect their marchers.  The judge delayed his decision until the next Thursday, and during this day, a march was held.   The crowd of one thousand five hundred marchers singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” was met at the Pettus Bridge by the same forces present on Bloody Sunday.  When asked to turn around, the diversely spread religious and racial contents of the march knelt down and prayed.  At the order of Dr. King, they then got up, turned around, and marched back to Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church.  Dr. King’s reasoning for ending the march was to protect his fellow protestors; he didn’t want further violence.  That night, after the march had disassembled, three white ministers heading along the road were attacked and beaten with iron pipes.  One of the three, Reverend James Reeb suffered a serious injury to the head and later died in a hospital bed.  His death gained national attention and influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Bill. 

            The death of Reverend Reeb definitely gained national attention.  After the incident, Governor Wallace, the governor of Alabama, flew down to personally tell the president that he didn’t have enough force to protect the civil right activists.  The president took the matter into his hands and ordered troops, marshals, National Guardsmen, and FBI agents down to Selma for protection.  He also made a speech about the horrible occurrence of Bloody Sunday, but many skeptics thought that it took a white minister’s death to get the president involved.  Others thought otherwise.  Nobody really knows.

            Anticipation hung in the air as everyone waited for the final decision to be made.  Would the civil right leaders be granted the forces they requested?  While some leaders were in the court room, others were outside in the busy Washington traffic.  They stood linked by the arms and wouldn’t move until the police had to practically carry and drag them out of the busy street of Pennsylvania Avenue.  A huge mob of clergymen, activists, and churchmen were all gathered outside the White House for a second time in two days.  This day marked the twelfth of March.  The huge mob totaled to about four thousand people.  They demanded that the president reconsider voting rights and protection for the people in Selma protesting.

(Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 1965)

Clergymen and civil right leaders spent four hours talking to President Johnson about the situation in Selma.  Two of these hours were focused on the officers that so roughly handled the peaceful marchers, while the other two were based on legislation for black voting rights to stop the current violence.  The president claimed that he took full responsibility for the cruel actions in Selma and that he had prepared a message on voting rights for the Congress.  The Justice Department was working on a follow up bill. 

(Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 1965)

All the while, seventy-five FBI agents were present outside the White House to monitor the clergymen gathered around the perimeter.  Thirty-six people had been arrested and were fined a fee of ten dollars for disorderly conduct.  Some paid the amount just to rejoin the protest, while others simply refused.  And more and more clergymen gathered around the Lutheran Church of Reformation, two blocks from the Capitol, as buses brought more people.  The clergymen that negotiated with Congress said that they sensed President Johnson seemed to be feeling pressured.

(Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 1965)

And then, the decision was finally clear.  After seeing the taping of Bloody Sunday and considering the constitutional rights, Federal Court Judge Johnson decided to side with the protestors and their case.  “These rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways,” he said.  And with that, he ordered the government not to interfere with the march organized to take place starting March 21, 1965.  That night, Dr. King sent a telegram around the country asking ministers of all faiths to come to Selma for the march.  The protest for voting rights would indeed take place.

The Final March
            A crowd.  Gathered around Brown’s Chapel was a crowd of nearly three thousand two hundred citizens of the U.S. nation.  These people of diverse race and religion banded together for the big march aiming to take place that day.  This crowd held a combination of people, from ministers, to leaders, to common townspeople.  Big celebrities like Harry Belafonte and Ralph Bunche even joined in on the activity.

On Sunday, March 21, 1965, three thousand two hundred marchers started walking towards the capitol once more.  This time they were successful.  The civil rights activists traveled twelve miles a day by foot and slept in fields at night.  After traveling seven miles from Selma the first day, though, only three hundred select marchers were allowed to walk along Highway 80.  The other two thousand were taken back to Selma by trains, cars, and buses of transportation.  This time, the march was also given security.  Twelve planes and helicopters flew over the protestors to restrain any sudden violence done to the peaceful marchers. 

By the time they reached Montgomery, on Thursday, March 25, 1965, the crowd led by Martin Luther King had increased from three hundred people to twenty-five thousand people.  It was a truly unbelievable sight.  They tried to deliver their petition to the governor, but he wouldn’t accept it; they weren’t even allowed on the Capitol Building’s steps!  During this time, Martin Luther King gave one of his speeches, thought to also be one of his most powerful, about the horrible treatment and injustice done to the black people of Alabama.  By six in the evening, the marchers were taken back to Selma by different means of transportation.  They were advised to leave the city before dark.  As a young woman by the name of Viola Liuzzo traveled home that night from the march, she and a young colored man she was taking home were both attacked.  In the end, she was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, while the other passenger was brutally injured.   This was another sad death taken for the righteous cause.

The Signing of the Voting Rights Act
            On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, a law stating that states couldn’t restrict any type of people from voting, whether they be judged by race, religion, etc.  It empowered the national government to enroll the citizens, previously denied, on the voting list.  That very same day that the president passed the bill, three hundred black voters were registered in Sumter County, Georgia after a two week black opposing drive was dropped.  The race had finally been completed.  The battle had been won.  And, indeed, our nation had overcome.

(Garrow xi)



Garrow, David.  Protest at Selma.  New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University, 1978.

Lewis, John.  Walking With the Wind.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Internet Sources

Murder of three civil rights workers key event in nation's history

(Jamie Sullivan is an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts at Joplin East Middle School.)     

  Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney were the three civil rights workers murdered during Freedom Summer on June 21st 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Goodman and Schwerner were both Jewish and from New York and Chaney was a black Mississippian from Meridian. Neshoba County deputy sheriff and member of the White Nights of the Ku Klux Klan Cecil Price and had arrested all three of them and later released them. After being released they were all shot in the chest and additionally Chaney was beaten with a chain. Their bodies were found several weeks later buried in an earthen dam. Forty years later, Edgar Ray Killen, at 80 years old, was charged with three counts of murder. But there’s more to the story than just this…
         The summer of 1964 was known as Freedom Summer which was a campaign in the U.S. to get blacks registered to vote, which in Mississippi was illegal at the time. Over 1,000 out-of-state volunteers participated in Freedom Summer alongside thousands of black Mississippians. Most of the volunteers were from the North and 90% were white and many were Jewish. (McAdam 66) Over the 10 weeks that it was going on, four people were severely wounded, thirty-seven businesses were bombed or burned and not to mention the murder of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. (Carson 114)
         All three men had just finished a week-long training on the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio. Local Klansmen knew about some of the activities going on between the three civil rights workers. Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the KK, had issued an order to kill Michael Schwerner. Schwerner was in Philadelphia, Mississippi in Neshoba County, a dangerous place for civil rights workers to be at, with Goodman and Chaney inspecting the ruins of Mount Zion United Methodist Church, which had been burned 5 days earlier because it had been a meeting place for many other civil rights groups. ( According to Wallace Miller, a member of the KKK who had broken his vow of silence 2 weeks after Freedom Summer, the Mt. Zion church had been burned to lure Schwerner into Neshoba County so the Klan could kill him. The three men were aware that their station wagon’s number had been given to members of the White Citizens’ Council and the KKK so before leaving Meridian they told other Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) workers about their plans and set check-in times as apart of standard security procedures. (
         Later that afternoon, Cecil Price had arrested Chaney because he had allegedly been driving 35 miles over the speed limit. Price also arrested Goodman and Schwerner for “investigation”. He brought them to the county jail and they were not allowed any phone calls. While in jail, Price notified Edgar Ray Killen who got some of the Klan together and planned to kill the three workers. Killen was later identified as the ringleader of the Klansmen. The Klan planned an  ambush and after setting it up, Chaney was fined $20 and the three men were told to leave the county. Price followed them to the edge of town and then pulled them over. He kept them with him until the Klan had arrived. Once they arrived Schwerner was dragged out of the car and shot once through the heart. Goodman was shot next and then Chaney was shot three times and beaten with a chain. The Klan then drove the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) car into a swamp and set it on fire. They buried the three men’s bodies in an earthen dam and then they used a bulldozer to cover them up. (
         The bodies of the three men were found in August 1964. (Ball 111) There were 21 men accused of their murders some of them including Edgar Ray Killen and Cecil Ray Price. (The Telegraph Herald Dec. 4 1964) Immediately after the men turned up missing, SNCC and COFO workers had been calling the FBI and asking for an investigation but the FBI agents wouldn’t investigate because it was a local matter. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered an investigation and FBI agents began swarming around Philadelphia, Mississippi where Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were arrested. (
         During the hung jury of Edgar Ray Killen’s first trial, one woman of the jury couldn’t bring herself to convict him because she believed a man of God could not have been apart of the conspiracy. Later she regretted her decision and admitted she was wrong.
         On January 6, 2005, Killen was arrested for three counts of murder. His trial was rescheduled for April 18, 2005, and began on June 13, 2005 while he was in a wheelchair because he broke both of his legs while chopping lumber at his rural home in Neshoba County. Killen was found guilty of manslaughter on June 21, 2005: the 41st anniversary of the crime. The jury dropped charges of murder but still found him guilty of recruiting the mob that killed the three men. His maximum sentence of 60 years in prison was sentenced on June 23, 2005. He was sentenced 20 years for each count of manslaughter and was eligible for parole after serving for at least 20 years. (
         On August 12, Killen was released from prison with a $600,000 appeal bond. He claimed that he was not able to use his right hand and that he now had to permanently use a wheelchair to get around. But on September 3, a police officer had reported seeing Killen walking around “with no problem”. At a hearing on September 9, more officers had also reported seeing Killen driving and one officer said that he shook hands with Killen using his right hand. A judge had ordered him back to prison saying that he believed that he had committed a fraud against the court. ( On March 9, 2006, Killen was removed from prison to a hospital in Jackson, Mississippi to treat his injured leg from a logging accident in 2005. He is still in jail serving his 60 years for the murders of the three civil rights workers; one of the most important events in the civil rights movement.
Book sources
Ball, Howard. Murder in Mississippi. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004
Ball, Howard. Justice in Mississippi. Lawrence KS 66045: University Press of Kansas, 2006
Huie, William. Three Lives for Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi/Jackson: WWC Books, 1965
McAdam, Doug. Freedom Summer. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988
Carson, Claybourne. In Struggle. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981

The Birmingham Church Bombing: The Day That Time Stood StilH

(Note: The author, Madeline Fichtner, is an eighth grade student in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at Joplin East Middle School.)
The clock froze at 10:22 as the explosion rocked 16th Street Baptist Church. The girls in the basement bathroom were Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, and Sarah Collins. Only Sarah survived, and she was blinded. It was Sunday, September 15th, 1963, a day that would be remembered as Birmingham Sunday. The men who did this horrendous crime? Thomas Blanton, Bobby Frank Cherry, Robert Chambliss, and Herman Frank Cash. Three were convicted; Herman had died a few years before he could be convicted. In Birmingham, bombings were common. So common, in fact, the city had become known as “Bombingham.” There hadn’t been any serious injuries until September 15th. But the story doesn’t end there.     

       It was youth Sunday at the church that served as the center of the civil rights movement. (Currie 12). The spiritual leader of the church was reverend Fred Shuttleworth, whose home had been bombed no less than three times.  Five little girls were primping in the bathroom of the church. The girls were Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, and Sarah Collins. No one knew that these laughs might be their last. What happened next would be forever burned into the minds of Americans.

      The bomb under the steps went off at 10:22 on September 15th, 1963. "It sounded like the whole world was shaking," said Reverend Cross later in court. "And the building, I thought, was going to collapse!" ( On the other side of the wall was a bathroom containing the girls. The explosion injured 16 people other than the girls: nine black males, five black females, and two white females. (FBI files). Denise’s body was pulled out first followed by Addie, Cynthia and Carole. A boy named Virgil Ware and James Robinson died also that day after being shot. (Currie, 17). A mayor’s aide, Charles Vann, was on his way to the scene and saw Robert Chambliss. He later told the press that the man was “looking down toward the 16th street Baptist church like a firebug watching his fire.” (
 The girls that died that day were all exceptional children. Cynthia always wanted to help others and was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Wesley. Cynthia was said to be a delightful young lady. Carole always just wanted to teach history and dance in her free time. Carolyn Lee Brown said, “[Carole] was a very giving, outgoing person.” Carole was in the band, and she was supposed to play at her first football game the following day. Obviously, she didn’t get to. Carole had a bible in her pocketbook the day of the explosion, which her mother still keeps.  Addie was a quiet girl and, given she hadn’t died, probably would have become a social worker, or even a teacher. Her sister said, “to know Addie is to love Addie.” After she was killed, her other sister, Junie, frequently had panic attacks. Denise was involved in the cause in which she died for. She wanted nothing more than to fight for the cause of equal rights. Her aunt, Helen Pegues, said, “ I think she spent most of her time trying to do for other children.” But they would never get the chance to. (Brimmer, 34-37) (4 little girls). The explosion blinded Sarah Collins. She spent two full months in the hospital with 21 shards of glass embedded in her face. (Currie, 16, 21). Denise had a chunk of concrete imbedded in her skull. (4 little girls.)
Immediately after the explosion military jets of bomb experts were flown to Birmingham to investigate. Activists believed that Governor Wallace was behind the murders, as he had said a few days earlier, “we need a few first-class funerals to stop integration in Alabama.” And that was exactly what happened. But instead of dousing the flames, it only made them burn brighter than ever.      ( Rev. John Bevel said, “it was like someone was hitting me with hot steel, and I felt personally insulted because it was like they knew these children was using this church and it was like they knew these children was using this church and they really felt insulted because these children has defeated them, right? So its like they’re coming back on these children to say, ‘we will tech you a lesson’ and its like, ‘no, we will teach you a lesson.’” (4 little girls)  Rev. John Cross said that the people responsible would be brought to justice (Currie, 32) and within days the police had four suspects. (
The civil rights leaders, including rev. bevel and martin Luther king Jr., wanted to plan a mass funeral, but Carole Robertson’s family wanted a quiet, private funeral. At the mass funeral, there was singing and a speech by Dr. King. (4 little girls)
 The first arrest was of Robert Chambliss. On October 8th, 1963, he was convicted of murder and possession of 122 sticks of dynamite. He was found not guilty of murder and got six months of jail time for the dynamite.
      The case remained unsolved until bill Baxley, attorney general of Alabama requested the original FBI files and discovered that J. Edgar Hoover had a lot of evidence against Chambliss that hadn’t been used in the original trial. (
      In November of 1977, a 73-year-old Chambliss was tried again. His defense attorney was Arthur Hanes Jr. (4 little girls) He was convicted of one count of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison and died there in 1985.
( The people who convicted him included Mrs. Glenn, who identified him as the man who set the dynamite, and Yvonne young, who accidently walked into a room filled with dynamite on her way to find the bathroom. (
      In 1988, Frank Herman Cash was indicted but never formally charged and died before the charges could be pressed. 1n 1997, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were charged with murder. Blanton was tried and convicted on May 1st, 2001. ( It took the jury just two hours to convict him. (
Cherry’s trial was pushed back because he was deemed “too mentally unstable to help the lawyer with his own defense. Later he was ready to stand trial, and on May 22nd, 2002, he was convicted of the murder of all four girls and was sentenced to life in prison. ( Bobby was said to be an uneducated, abusive redneck. (Currie, 20). 
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the bombing. Remember the girls who paid the price for a nation’s ignorance. And as it was said, “On Birmingham Sunday, the blood ran like wine, and the choir kept singing of freedom.” 

·    4 little girls. Director Spike Lee. 40 Acres & A Mule Film works, 1997. DVD.
·    Currie, Stephen. The Birmingham Church Bombings. Detroit, MI: Thompson Gale, 2006.
·    Brimmer, Larry Dan. Birmingham Sunday.  Honesdale, PA: Calkins creek, 2010.
·    McKinstry, Carolyn. While the World Watched. USA, Tyndale, 2011.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Third Quarter Civil Rights Research Project to be featured at Joplin Technology Fair

Mr. Randy Turner's third quarter civil rights research project at Joplin East Middle School will be featured at the Joplin School District's Technology Fair Monday, April 2, at the Joplin High School's 11'12th Grade Center at Northpark Mall. Eighth graders Stella Ndauwa, Amy Koch, Jamie Sullivan, Megan Hickey, Keisha Grunden( all featured in the accompanying video) and Jennifer Nguyen (who did the camerawork), will represent the class at the show.