Today we look back and remember the Birmingham Church Bombing that occurred at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15,1963. The three-story all Black Church, had been a rallying point for the Civil Rights Movement which made it a prime target for the Ku Klux Klan. The church was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. Birmingham was a hot bed for violence during the Civil Rights Era. In fact the city had been dubbed with the nickname Bombingham as the city had experienced more than 50 bombings in black institutions and homes since World War I.
Four young girls were killed in the racial attack that took place on that Sunday before Church services, and twenty-two others were injured.
Russel Goldman sites in his article for ABC News:
At a memorial service for the girls, three days after the blast, Martin Luther King Jr., said, “These children — unoffending, innocent, and beautiful — were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.”
A time-line and pictures of the event can be found on CNN U.S.. As stated on Wikipedia “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 a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the church, near the basement. At about 10:22 a.m., twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” when the bomb exploded.”.
Robert Chambliss, Thomas E. Blanton Jr, Herman Cash, and Bobby Frank Cherry were the men accused of perpetrating the heinous attack. All four were members of the Klan. Although an investigation of the bombing was opened at the time of the event, due to the racial era, not much was done and the case was dropped. Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the investigation in 1971. He said it took him half a decade to bring charges against suspect Robert Chambliss, because the FBI refused to cooperate for years. The case was then closed again, but then re-opened in 1996 by the FBI due to receiving new evidence.
Chambliss went on trial for murder in 1977. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, in which he actually only served 8 years. He died in 1985, at age 81 in Alabama. Blanton was tried in 2001 and found guilty at age 62 of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 and was never charged in the case. Cherry was scheduled for trial in April of 2001, but his attorneys argued that he was unfit to stand trial due to being too physically and mentally infirm to stand trial. Circuit Court Judge James Garrett indefinitely postponed proceedings against him. In January 2002, Garrett reversed his earlier ruling and declared Cherry competent to stand trial. He later was sentenced to life in prison and died there in 2004.
On Tuesday, the four girls were posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, a rare honor that requires an act of both houses of Congress. The ceremony came five days before the 50th anniversary of their deaths inside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The medal will be kept at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The Washington Post reports that the language in the legislation specifically recognized how the children’s deaths marked a turning point in the years-long fight for equal rights for the nation’s African American citizens.
It is very important that we remember history, learn from it and continue to move onward! The Civil Rights Movement and heinous events such as this bombing are apart of the Black Communities History as well as American History. Our nation has come a very long way since then, but have we come far enough? Is there still racism in this country? Yes! Is it as bad as the past, NO! We must however continue to improve on race relations in this country if we are to continue to be the great nation that we are. The only way to do that is to acknowledge our history as a nation (not run from it), as it shows us the way to becoming one great nation instead of a house divided by race and color.
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