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The Significance Of The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombings Towards The Civil Rights Movement

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This is actually an oral presentation, enhanced with visuals.

Today I will discuss the horrific incident that took place in 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It has been proven that members of the white supremisist group the Ku Klux Klan bombed the African American church, which was an organisational centre for Civil Rights groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

High profile civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr, and Ralph Abernathy congregated there regulary. In April earlier that year, the SCLC had launched the B'ham campaign, a well planned protest movement, which fought to desegregate the South's most segregated major city. They also fought against the injustice of the brutality by the B'ham Police Dept., which had very close ties to the KKK.

The demonstrations and marches which involved thousands of African Americans eventually led to stores being desegregated, and just days before the bombing, schools in Birmingham had been ordered by a federal court to integrate - nearly ten years after the Brown v Topeka case (the court order for all schools to desegregate) But because not everyone agreed to integration, this had created an even more poisoned atmosphere of racial hatred.

On Sunday the 15th of September, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car, placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. This box was later found to have contained 19 sticks of dynamite. Inside the church, the Sunday School was were preparing for their annual Youth Sunday service. Several hundred adults, and Father John Cross, whose own house had been bombed three times, were also in attendance.

At 10.22 am, when children were walking into the basement assembly room for closing prayers, the bomb exploded. The explosion blew a hole in the church's rear wall, destroyed the back steps, and left intact only the frames of all but one stained-glass window. Four girls, aged 11-14 were killed, and 23 others were injured. Here is a newspaper clipping from the B'ham News, the day after the bombing, showing the devestating wreckage.


Within days of the bombing, the national outcry became enormous. President John F. Kennedy expressed grief and outrage from the White House at the "deplorable conditions in the state of Alabama." Violence had already erupted in the city and tensions rose even higher when former B'ham Police Comissioner Bull Connor suggested that African Americans may have set the bomb deliberately to provoke an emotional response.

Bobby Frank Cherry, a demolitions expert, and three other white supremacists--Robert Chambliss, Thomas Blanton, and Herman Cash--were under investigation within days of the bombing. But two years later, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declined to pursue the case, saying the chances for conviction were "remote." In 1968, federal authorities shut down the investigation.

In 1970, William J Baxley was elected attorney general of Alabama, and declared that solving the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing would be the priority of his administration.

Eventually, Robert Chambliss,a known member of the KKK was arrested and charged for the murder of the four girls in 1977. Here is a picture of his mugshot -


He was sent to prison and died there in 1985.

In 1980, a US Department of Justice report stated that the former head of the FBI had blocked evidence that could have been used in the pursuit of suspects. This led to the Alabama district attorney reopening the case. By May 2000, two other participants in the murder surrendered to the authorities after being indicted on four counts of murder. The FBI has been criticised by many with regards to this case, particularly the role played by J Edgar Hoover, who had hid the evidence that eventually was used much later to successfully prosecute those who had carried out the bombing.

The significance of this event during the Civil Rights Movement was



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