Bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church - Birmingham, AL -1963

Above: The original Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was used as both a house of worship and an active meeting place for civil rights organizers. Leaders like the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and Fred Shuttlesworth regularly hosted meetings there.

On Sunday, September 15th, 1963, as a group of girls prepared in the church's basement to lead a part of the 11:00 adult services, a white man got out of a white and turquoise car and left a box hidden under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Church. At 10:22, a bomb exploded, killing fourteen year olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and eleven year old Denise McNair, and injuring twenty-three others.

This tragedy was one of many bombing incidents that occurred from 1947- 1967 in Birmingham, which at the time was known as “Bombingham.” The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing is considered to be the most disastrous of them all. This unfortunate bombing was the result of increasing tension that was caused after a federal court decided to reintegrate schools in the area. Alabama’s governor, Governor George Wallace, made the decision to deny putting this plan into action which triggered everyone against this, including the Birmingham bombers, to retaliate. They began with bombing a black attorney’s house multiple times within just a few weeks. After discussion, the federal authority achieved their goal in desegregating the schools, which only led to chaos.

Initially, Civil Rights activists blamed then governor of Alabama, who had stated to the New York Times a week prior to the bombing that Alabama was in need of a "few first-class funerals." A witness placed Ku Klux Klan member Robert Chambliss at the scene of the crime, and he was soon arrested and charged. One month later, a judge found Chambliss not-guilty of murder, and slapped him with a mere six-month jail sentence and hundred dollar fine for possessing the dynamite used for the blow.

The case remained untouched until Bill Baxley was elected attorney general of Alabama in 1970. Baxley promptly charged Chambliss for the murders, and in 1977 he was convicted.
On May 17th, 2000, the FBI released new information after reopening the case, announcing that the bombing had been planned and succeeded by the Ku Klux Klan-like group, the Cahaba Boys. It was claimed that four men, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry had been responsible for the crime. By this time, Cash was long deceased, however Blanton and Cherry were immediately arrested. Thirty-nine years after the bombing both Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry were convicted of the murder of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley and was sentenced to life in prison. Justice was finally served.

This event actually was preceeded by the March on Washington, which occured about three weeks before. The tragedy damaged the progress made with the nonviolent, yet powerful March. Blacks felt that this action had crossed the line. It added fuel to an already patient population, causing some outbursts of anger towards whites, which inevitably damaged the reputation of the movement.