On September 15, 1963, white supremacist Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., now 86, killed Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair by bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He will be up for parole next year.
The terrorist was not convicted until 2001, 38 years after the bombing. In 2016, the Alabama Board of Pardons denied Blanton’s request for parole “after he asked to die a free man,” according to the Chicago Crusader.
By 1965, the case was closed with no one being convicted. In 1977, Alabama Attorney General Bob Baxley reopened the investigation.
Klan leader Robert E. Chambliss was convicted of murder and died in prison in 1985. By 2002, former Klan member Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted and died in prison in 2004. Another suspect, Herman Frank Cash, died in 1994 before he could be brought to trial.
Chambliss and Cherry maintained their innocence. In 2016, NPR reported, "Blanton has maintained his innocence since his trial in 2001. He was convicted under 1963 laws which did not provide for life without parole. So now he's up for routine parole consideration after 15 years. ... Groups including the NAACP and the family organization Jack and Jill of America have sent letters objecting to Blanton's possible release."
Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair were attending Sunday school in the church’s basement when a bomb detonated under the steps of the church. Fourteen others were also injured in the blast.
The deaths of the girls sparked riots around the city and were especially poignant given Birmingham’s designation as America’s most segregated city at the time. Just days before the bombing, Birmingham schools were federally ordered to integrate and that same year, Gov. George Wallace physically kept two African-American students from entering the University of Alabama.
In 2013, House and Senate leaders awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair.
Bettmann / Contributor