Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., the last surviving member of the group of men who were convicted of bombing Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, has died in an Alabama prison.
The 82-year-old passed away after going into cardiac arrest on Friday (June 26) at William Donaldson Correctional Facility and confirmed by the Jefferson County Coroner's Office, reports CNN.
In 2001, Blanton was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for taking the lives of Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14. The conviction came nearly 40 years after the crime took place.
"The preliminary autopsy results found no evidence of trauma or foul play, but did reveal the decedent had significant natural disease consistent with his known documented medical history," Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates said in a statement.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivy issued a statement revealing that Blanton died from natural causes while serving a life sentence for the 1963 racists crime that killed four Black girls and injured others.
“While serving a life sentence, Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., the last surviving 16th Street Baptist Church bomber, has passed away from natural causes,” Ivy’s statement read. “His role in the hateful act on September 15, 1963, stole the lives of four innocent girls and injured many others. That was a dark day that will never be forgotten in both Alabama’s history and that of our nation.”
The statement continues: “Although his passing will never fully take away the pain or restore the loss of life, I pray on behalf of the loved ones of all involved that our entire state can continue taking steps forward to create a better Alabama for future generations.
“Let us never forget that Sunday morning in September of 1963 and the four young ladies whose lives ended far too soon, but let us continue taking steps forward to heal, do better and honor those who sacrificed everything for Alabama and our nation to be a home of opportunity for all,” the statement concludes.
Blanton maintained his innocence over the years and was most recently denied parole in 2016. Two other former Ku Klux Klan members, Robert Chambliss and Bobby Cherry, were also convicted and died behind bars.
Doug Jones, who prosecuted Blanton’s case prior to becoming a U.S. senator, also reacted to the news of Blanton’s death confirming that Blanton’s death is an example that when we come together as a community to demand justice, it can and will be achieved.
“Tommy Blanton is responsible for one of the darkest days in Alabama’s history, and he will go to his resting place without ever having atoned for his actions or apologizing to the countless people he hurt,” said Jones. “The fact that after the bombing, he went on to remain a free man for nearly four decades speaks to a broader systemic failure to hold him and his accomplices accountable. That he died at this moment, when the country is trying to reconcile the multi-generational failure to end systemic racism, seems fitting.”
Photo: Alabama Department of Corrections