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Aftermath of the bombing
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was a racially motivated terrorist attack on September 15, 1963, by members of a Ku Klux Klan group in Birmingham, Alabamamarker in the United States. The bombing of the African-American church resulted in the deaths of four girls. Although city leaders had reached a settlement in May with demonstrators and started to integrate public places, not everyone agreed with ending segregation. Other acts of violence followed the settlement. The bombing increased support for people working for civil rights. It 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.

The three-story Sixteenth Street Baptist Churchmarker was a rallying point for civil-rights activities through the spring of 1963, and is where the students were trained who marched out of the church to be arrested during the 1963 Birmingham campaign's Children's Crusade. The demonstrations led to an agreement in May between the city's black leaders and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference 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 122 sticks of dynamite with a delayed-time release outside the basement of the church.

At about 10:22 a.m., when twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room for closing prayers of a sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” the bomb exploded According to an interview on NPR on September 15, 2008, Denise McNair's father stated that the sermon never took place because of the bombing. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), were killed in the blast, and 22 additional people were injured, one of whom was Addie Mae Collins' younger sister, Sarah.

The explosion blew a hole in the church's rear wall, destroyed the back steps, and left intact only the frames of all but one stained-glass window. The lone window that survived the concussion was one in which Jesus Christ was depicted knocking on a door, although Christ's face was destroyed. In addition, five cars behind the church were damaged, two of which were destroyed, while windows in the laundromat across the street were blown out.


  • Carol Denise McNair was born September 17, 1951, 11 at the time of her death. She was the first child of photo shop owner Chris and school teacher Maxine McNair. Her playmates called her Niecie. A pupil at Center Street Elementary School, she had many friends. She held tea parties, was a member of the Brownies guide organization, and played baseball. She helped raise money to support muscular dystrophy by creating plays, dance routines, and poetry readings. These events became an annual event. People gathered in the yard to watch the show in Denise's carport, the main stage. Children donated their pennies, dimes, and nickels. Denise was a schoolmate and friend of Condoleezza Rice. She is buried in Elmwood Cemeterymarker. About five years after the bombing, Denise's parents had two more daughters.
  • Cynthia Diane Wesley was born April 30, 1949, 14 at the time of her death, she was the first adopted daughter of Claude and Gertrude Wesley, both of whom were teachers. Her mother made her clothes because of her petite size. Cynthia went to school at Ullman High School, which no longer exists. She excelled in math, reading, and band. Cynthia held parties in her backyard for all her friends. Upon Cynthia's death she was found because of the ring she wore, which was recognized by her father. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
  • Carole Rosamond Robertson was born April 24, 1949, 14 at the time of her death. She was the third child of Alpha and Alvin Robertson. Her sister was Dianne and her brother was Alvin. Her father was a band master at the local elementary school. Her mother was a librarian, avid reader, dancer, and clarinet player. Carole, like her mother, enjoyed reading. She excelled at school and was a straight-A student, a member of Parker High School marching band and science club. She was also a Girl Scout and belonged to Jack and Jill of America. When she was at Wilkerson Elementary School she sang in the choir. Her legacy helped create the Carole Robertson Center for Learning in Chicago, a social service agency that serves children and their families. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
  • Addie Mae Collins was born April 18, 1949, 14 at the time of her death, she was the daughter of Julius Collins. Her father was a janitor and her mother a homemaker. She was one of seven children. She was also an avid softball player. A youth center dedicated to Addie and her ideals was created in Birmingham. Her younger sister Sarah was with her at the time and lost her right eye in the blast. Addie Mae is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Outrage at the bombing and the grief that followed resulted in violence across Birmingham. By the end of the day, two more African-American youths had been killed. Sixteen-year-old Johnny Robinson was shot and killed by police after throwing stones at cars with white people inside. Two white teenage boys riding on a bike shot 13-year-old Virgil Wade, who was on a bike with his brother.

Three days after the tragedy, former Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor inflamed tensions by saying to a crowd of 2,550 people at a Citizen's Council meeting, "If you're going to blame anyone for getting those children killed in Birmingham, it's your Supreme Courtmarker." Connor recalled that in 1954, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision had been reached, he said, "You're going to have bloodshed, and it's on them (the Court), not us." He also suggested that African Americans may have set the bomb deliberately to provoke an emotional response, saying, "I wouldn't say it's above (Dr. Martin Luther) King's crowd." .

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.

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ensuring equal rights of African Americans before the law.

Investigation and prosecution

Four men were the primary suspects:

  • Robert Edward Chambliss, also known as "Dynamite Bob," was initially charged with the murders, but there was no conviction at first. Other perpetrators were identified but evidence was weak. Chambliss was convicted of having 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. In 1978, Alabama attorney general Bill Baxley successfully prosecuted Chambliss. He was convicted of the four murders and sentenced to several terms of life imprisonment. Chambliss died in prison in 1985.

Years later investigation found that the FBImarker had accumulated evidence against the bombers which had not been revealed to the prosecutors, by order of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Some of the suspects were not charged until forty-five years after the bombing. After reopening the case several times, the FBI in 2000 assisted the state authorities in bringing charges against

  • Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr. Blanton was convicted in 2001 and Cherry in 2002 by state juries of all four murders and both were sentenced to life in prison. Though Cherry publicly denied involvement, relatives and friends testified that he "bragged" about being part of the bombing, and his ex-wife testified, "He said he lit the fuse." Cherry died in prison in 2004. Blanton is currently incarcerated.

  • Herman Frank Cash, a fourth primary suspect, died in 1994 without being charged. At the time, FBI agent Rob Langford, then head of the Birmingham FBI office, had reopened the investigation into the bombing after a 1993 meeting with leaders of the Birmingham black community.

  • Another suspect, Troy Ingram, is believed to have helped design the bomb. A witness saw a man fitting Ingram's description fleeing the scene of the blast with another man matching Blanton's description. Ingram failed two polygraph examinations but was never charged. He died of a heart attack in 1973.


The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 2005

See also


Further reading

  • Hamlin, Christopher M. (1998). Behind the Stained Glass: A History of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Birmingham, AL: Crane Hill.

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