When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings

When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings

Jacob Miller - September 17, 2017

The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was an act of white supremacist terrorism which occurred at the African-American 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, September 15, 1963. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted fifteen sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the steps on the east side of the church.

Birmingham, at the time, had a reputation for being a violent city and any forms of racial integration were met with resistance. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of Birmingham as “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.” During a span of eight years before 1963, there had been 21 separate bombings at black properties and churches, although none fatal.

The 16 Street Baptist Church had become a focal point for civil rights activities. The church was used as a meeting place for civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and Fred Shuttlesworth. On May 2, more than 1,000 students went to the church rather than school and marched to downtown Birmingham in protest of the racial segregation. The demonstration led to the integration of public facilities in the school within 90 days.

Four girls, Addie May Collins, 14, Carol Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, were killed in the attack. More than 20 other people were injured in the explosion.

The FBI concluded in 1965 that the bombing was perpetrated by four known Klansmen and segregationists- Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss, and Bobby Frank Cherry.

In 1977 Robert Chambliss was tried and convicted of the first-degree murder of 11-year-old Carol Denise McNair. Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry were convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Cash, who died in 1994, was never charged with his involvement in the bombing.

When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14; from left, are shown in these 1963 photos. These are the faces of the lives lost during the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963. AP Photo
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
At 10:22a.m. Sept. 15, 1963, an anonymous caller phoned the church and simply said Three minutes. Bernard Troncale
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
A state trooper and two plainclothes men stand guard at a roadblock at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 16, 1963. The area was sealed off to all, but officers and the FBI are investigating the bombing which killed four African American children. The blast went off inside the basement door at far right. Associated Press
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
The 16 Street Baptist Church served as a rallying point during the civil rights movement. It was declared a national historic landmark in 2006. CNN
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Firefighters and ambulance attendants remove a body from the church after the explosion. CNN
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
The children were changing into their choir robes when the bomb went off and ended their lives. Tom Self
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
The cars, which were parked beside the 16th street Baptist Church, were blown four feet by an explosion which ripped the church during services in Birmingham, Ala. on Sept. 15, 1963. The explosion also blasted windows from buildings within the area. AP Photo
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
The explosion blew a seven-foot hole in the rear wall of the church and left a five-foot wide crater. Tom Self
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
In the eight years before the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, there were at least 21 other explosions at black churches and properties although there were no fatalities in these prior attacks. Birmingham News
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
It blew a passing motorist out of his car and destroyed several other cars parked nearby. Tom Self
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
All of the stained glass windows in the church were destroyed except one that depicted Jesus, but his face was blown out. Tom Self
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Agents of the FBI investigating the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Getty Images
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
May 3, 1963 – The 16th Street Baptist Church had become a focal point for civil rights activities including the Children’s Crusade in May of 1963 making it a target for the segregationists. JONES
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described it at the time as One of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. The explosion killed four young black girls and injured 22 others. Birmingham News
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
A black youth kneels in prayer, alongside other solemn people, after a Baptist church had been bombed leaving 4 children dead in the blast. Getty Images
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
An unidentified group sing freedom songs in the street, after funeral services for three young African American girls, victims of a church bombing, Sept. 18, 1963, Birmingham, Ala. An African American man requested them not to demonstrate and they dispersed. Associated Press
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
A grieving relative of one of bombing victims in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 15, 1963, at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church has led away after telling officers that some of his family was in the section most heavily damaged. The man just in back of him is holding a shoe found in the debris. At least four persons were known to have been killed. AP Photo
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Hospitalized bomb blast victim Sarah Jean Collins, 12, blinded by dynamite explosion set off in the basement of the church that killed her sister and three other girls as her Sunday school class was ending. Photo by Frank Dandridge//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Heavyweight boxer Floyd Patterson, speaking at New Pilgrim Baptist Church after bombings and discrimination riots. Getty Images
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Martin Luther King Jr. held a press conference in Birmingham the day after the attack. He said that the U.S. Army out to come to Birmingham and take over this city and run it. CNN
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is followed by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, left, and Ralph Abernathy as they attend funeral services at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church for three of the four black girls killed in a church explosion in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 18, 1963. Associated Press
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
This general view shows part of the overflow crowd attending the funeral services at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church for three of the four black girls killed in a church explosion in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 18, 1963. The Sept. 15 explosion at the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church, where several integrationist meetings were held, ripped apart a Sunday School classroom. Associated Press
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Coffin being loaded into hearse among the crowd at the funeral for victims of 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Photo by Burton Mcneely//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
The family of Carol Robertson, a 14-year-old African American girl killed in a church bombing, attend graveside services for her, Sept. 17, 1963, Birmingham, Ala. Seated left to right: Carol Robertson’s sister Dianne and parents, Mr. Alvin Robertson Sr. and Mrs. Alpha Robertson. The others are unidentified. AP Photo/Horace Cort
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Mourners at the funeral for victims of 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Photo by Burton Mcneely//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Man digging grave for a victim of the church bombing. (Photo by Burton Mcneely//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Sept. 15, 1963: Juanita Jones, center, comforts her sister, Maxine McNair, whose daughter Denise McNair died earlier that day in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. At left is Clara Pippen, mother of the two women. The man at right is unidentified. The bombing occurred days after black students began attending Birmingham city schools. Birmingham News /Landov
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Mr. and Mrs. Chris McNair hold a picture of their daughter, Denise, 11, in Birmingham, September 16, 1963, as they tell a newsman about the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. One day earlier, Denise and three other girls died in the blast while attending Sunday school. McNair operates a commercial photo studio. Associated Press
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama took place on Sept. 15, 1963, when four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted at least 15 sticks of dynamite with a timer under the front steps of the church. al
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Over 3,300 mourners including 800 clergymen attended the funeral of the other three girls. al
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
One of two men being questioned about the recent bombings sits in the back seat, at right, of a state trooper car with bullet holes in the windshield, as he arrives at the city jail for safe keeping, Sept. 30, 1963, Birmingham, Ala. At left is a state trooper. Associated Press
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Robert E. Chambliss is smiling after his arrest for murdering four young girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Getty Images
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Robert Chambliss was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 1977 of 11-year-old Carol Denise McNair and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in 1985. al
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Ten years after Chambliss died the FBI reopened the investigation into the bombing, finding in addition to Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, then deceased, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry committed the bombing. Blanton & Cherry were arrested and indicted in May of 2000. al
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Bobby Cherry was tried and convicted of four counts of first-degree murder on May 22, 2002, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Cherry died at the Kilby Correctional Facility on Nov. 18, 2004. al
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
When asked if he had anything to say he simply stated I guess the Lord will settle it on Judgment Day. al
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Thomas Blanton, the last surviving Klansman convicted in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing will go before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on Aug. 3rd for his first parole hearing. He is serving his sentence at the St. Clair Correctional Facility. al
When Racial Tensions in the U.S. Were at their Worst: The 16th Street Birmingham Baptist Church Bombings
Thomas Blanton was tried and convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in May of 2001. al

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