There were and are so many atrocious things inflicted upon people of African descent from the beginning of our journey in this place the slaves called “merica”. My purpose, today, is to bring into remembrance the horrible murder of four little girls in Birmingham on September 15th, 1963 was without question the worst. It happened on a Sunday morning while these babies were attending Sunday school when a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
We are reminded each day of heinous murders and crimes that shocked America, but none had the devastating emotional impact as this senseless crime. These four children were in the church basement preparing for the morning service. The ground floor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church collapsed from the bomb planted by members of the terrorist “KKK” killing of four innocent little black girls.
Denise McNair, aged 11, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Robertson, all aged 14. Many others were injured. Despite the many racial crimes committed in the South, this one was greeted with abject horror. Despite the deaths of four young girls, and the many that were injured, no-one was initially arrested for this crime, even though, the authorities suspected four men within days of the outrage. Frankly, the authorities placed little value on the lives of Colored People that was one of the reasons not to investigate or apprehend the suspects.
Let me take you back to the era; Birmingham was ground zero for the civil rights movement, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was an organizational center for much of the movement’s activities. In particular, youths used the church to help plan strategies to get more black high school children involved in the civil rights cause.
In the spring of 1963, stores in downtown Birmingham had been desegregated, and just days before the bombing, schools in Birmingham had been ordered by a federal court to integrate – nearly ten years after the Brown v Board of Education ruling. Of course, the Klan and many racists would not accept this decision or the successes the civil rights movement.
The chief of police in the city, Bull Connor, was very anti-civil rights and had ordered that police dogs and fire hoses used on civil rights demonstrators in May 1963. Birmingham was well known as a stronghold of the KKK. The influence of the KKK was such that children’s books that showed black and white rabbits together were banned from sale in bookshops in the city. Segregation was the norm in the city. Violence against the black community in Birmingham was not unusual, but the deliberate bombing of a church took that violence to a new level.
In 1965, J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, stated that any chance of prosecution was “remote” and in 1968, the FBI pulled out of the investigation. Therefore, no-one was arrested for the outrage. Eventually, a known member of the KKK, Robert Chambliss, was arrested in 1977, nearly fifteen years later. He was sent to prison and died there in 1985. However, many believed that he was not the only one involved.
In 1980, a US Department of Justice report stated that Hoover had blocked evidence that could have been used in the pursuit of suspects. This led to the Alabama district attorney reopening the case. However, while the case was reopened but no new charges were filed.
In October 1988, Gary A Tucker admitted that he had helped set up the bomb. Dying of cancer, no charges were laid against him, but federal and state prosecutors reopened their investigations. In May 2000, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry surrendered to the authorities after they were indicted on four counts of first-degree murder and “universal malice”. One year later, Blanton, aged 62, was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty on four counts of murder.
Blandon said after the verdict was announced “I guess the good Lord will settle it on Judgment Day.” Bobby Frank Cherry was initially deemed to be mentally unfit to stand trial. However, this was overturned, and he was found guilty after members of his family gave evidence against him.
The role of the FBI has been criticized by some with regards to this case, particularly the role of Hoover. It was only after 14 years that the FBI released 9,000 files relevant to the case; including the so-called ‘Kitchen Tapes’ in which Thomas Blandon was heard telling his wife about building the bomb and planning to use it.
The mere fact that this case went unsolved for so long speaks to the depth of racial hatred in America not all that long ago. It was more shocking to our community that the powers that be knew who the culprits were and failed to act. The system of injustice was so pervasive that their inactions were the result of institutional approval. I think they are deserving of this high honor for being martyrs because their lives were innocently sacrificed for a cause they never really understood.
Let’s pray that the souls of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Robertson . Rest In Peace for all eternity and may God Bless each of you!!! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…