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.