It was a bomb blast that shocked the world and prompted men and women of conscience from all races and creeds to join the fight for civil rights in America. When four black girls died in 1963 in a Birmingham, Ala., church after a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan exploded during Sunday school service, the nation was forced to take notice. And it did.
The slayings of the innocent were a defining moment of the civil rights movement. Northerners who had been content to watch the marches and demonstrations in the South from the safety of their living rooms were suddenly questioning their inaction. Southern whites who had come to view the sit-ins and other protest demonstrations as inconveniences started to listen with their hearts. And the federal government, which had paid lip-service to the civil rights movement, realized the evil that racism harbored.
Justice: Eleven-year-old Denise McNair, and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, died on Sept. 15, 1963, while attending service at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, but in so doing gave new life to the fight for equality. And, their deaths hardened the resolve of the families that someday the killers would be brought to justice.
Thus, more than three decades later, one of the four suspects in the bombing was tried in a Birmingham courtroom and found guilty Tuesday of four counts of murder by a jury of eight whites and four blacks. Blanton was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1977, Robert Chambliss was also convicted of murder and died in prison in 1985. A third suspect, Herman Cash, is dead, while the fourth, Bobby Frank Cherry, has been indicted for murder but has been declared mentally incompetent to stand trial.
As the prosecutor in the Blanton case, U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, put it after the verdict, "Justice delayed is still justice."
National wound: For those who suggest that it is time to close the book on the civil rights era, we would simply say that the wounds of this nation's segregationist past will never be healed as long as there are murders still to be solved.