THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: SEPTEMBER 15,1963

16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

 

16th-street-baptist-church-bombingA bomb blast in a Negro church in Birmingham during Sunday School September 15 killed 4 Negro girls.

2 Negro youths were killed later September 15 in Birmingham, one during protest rioting and the other, Virgil Wade, 13, as he rode a bicycle on the outskirts of town.

In addition to killing the 4 girls, the bomb injured 14 Negroes, blew holes in the walls of the church (the 16th St. Baptist Church), wrecked 2 cars parked outside and badly damaged 3 others.

Negroes rushed to the scene after the blast and hurled rocks at passing cars carrying whites and at police.

Johnny Robinson, 16, a Negro, was killed by a shotgun blast fired by a policeman who said he fired low to disperse a rock-throwing group of Negro youths. In other incidents, a Negro youth and a white youth were shot but not seriously wounded and 4 whites were injured by stones.

Mayor Albert Boutwell, with tears in his eyes, called the bombing “just sickening” as he and Police Chief Ja-mie Moore appealed September 15 for help from Governor George C. Wallace in the event of further vio-lence.

In response, Wallace September 15 sent 500 National Guardsmen and 300 state troopers. He also offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the bombers. Wallace called the bombing “a tragic event” and said “the perpetrators of this vicious crime must be brought to justice.”

An Alabama jury May 22 found former Ku Klux Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry guilty of first-degree murder in a 1963 Birmingham church bombing that had killed four black girls. Cherry, 71, was sentenced to four life terms in prison, one for each of the victims. The conviction of Cherry, the last of the suspects in the church bombing, formally brought to a close Birmingham’s most historic and famous case.

A jury of six white women, three white men and three black men deliberated for more than six hours before handing down the verdict. Judge James Garrett of Jefferson County Circuit Court in Birmingham presided over the trial, which had opened May 14. Cherry was to have been tried in 2001 with Thomas Blanton Jr., another suspect in the case. However, Cherry’s trial had been delayed when doctors diagnosed him with dementia. Garrett, after further evaluation of Cherry, January 3 ruled that he was fit to stand trial.

Although Cherry had been one of four suspects named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shortly after the bombing, no charges were brought against him until 2000. The indictment came only after three federal investigations into the blast. The case had twice been closed and reopened, with no new charges, in 1980 and 1988, only to be reopened again in 1997.

“Last Suspect in 1963 Alabama Church Bombing Found Guilty; Ex-Klansman Cherry Sentenced to Life.” Facts On File. World News Digest. Infobase Learning, 23 May 2002. Web.


Learn more about the long path to justice in this case »

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