By Vincent L. Hall
Sunday, September 15, 1963, was just another day in the life of four little African American girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. However, by 10:22 am, it became evident that there was a different teacher on the Sunday school roster. The history of American apartheid and discrimination was on full display. The Jim Crow South was evil and it sentenced them to death.
The Congressional court summoned by the late John F. Kennedy and led by President Lyndon Johnson was solidly in deference to many Southerners. The Civil Rights Bill and Voting Rights Act passed in Congress. Some historians speculate that of all the vile and vicious attacks by the Klan and other supremacist militias, killing these young girls was the most disgusting, but paid the highest dividends. Some of the Civil rights activists of that day placed the blame squarely on Alabama’s Governor, George Wallace. Just one week before the bombing, Wallace either brazenly declared or properly prophesied these murders.
The Governor of Alabama and the chief spokesperson for “states’ rights told the New York Times that to stop integration, Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.” There is no doubt that Wallace wanted a King funeral, but he ended up with four princesses instead. According to a Washington Post story the next day, “Thousands of hysterical Negroes poured into the area around the church, and police fought for two hours, firing rifles into the air to control them.
When the crowd broke up, scattered shootings and stonings erupted through the city.” Birmingham Police killed two Negro teens, Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware, 16 and 13, respectively. Robert Chambliss, a card-carrying cadet of the Ku Klux Klan, was identified as the church bomber. A witness alleged that he placed 19 sticks of dynamite under the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church’s steps. Chambliss was arrested, charged with murder and the possession of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. Nevertheless, on October 8, 1963, Chambliss, aka “Dynamite Bob,” was found not guilty of murder. Instead, he received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.
The church bombing and this blatant betrayal of the law marked a turning point in the civil rights movement. White Northerners were incensed. They had witnessed the peaceful assembly of 250,000 protesters two weeks earlier. The March on Washington, spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream,” offered an opportunity. The church bombing served as a pointed example of the racism and hatred King denounced. In 14 days, America went from hopeful to dreadful. In November 1977, Chambliss was tried again for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.
At the age of 73, Chambliss was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Chambliss died in an Alabama prison on October 29, 1985. But the lives of the four little girls should never die. These martyrs would never know they were destined for eternal fame 57 years ago. It belittles, and it besmirches their legacy that African Americans must be courted and cajoled to go to the polls.
After the deaths of 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and 11-year-old Denise McNair, we should always be the first to arrive and the last to leave whenever a ballot is available. George Wallace’s campaign for White Supremacy and segregation was defeated in 1963. In 2020, Donald Trump’s campaign that will not condemn racism and White Nationalism is on the ballot! Vote him out in respect and regard for the four little girls we lost 57 years ago. The polls are open NOW! Go Vote!