By Ryan Velez
Anger is growing both in Alabama and across the country, as the Daily Mail has reported that the last of the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a church in 1963, killing 4 Black children, is up for parole. Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., 78, is currently serving a life sentence for his role in bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church, a gathering spot for demonstrators during the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Alabama’s parole board is set to consider him for release, but several voices are speaking out against letting Blanton go free.
Hezekiah Jackson, president of the Birmingham chapter of the NAACP, mentioned that freeing Blanton in the current racial climate, where there are protests nationwide regarding how police are treating Black people, poses a poor message.
‘It is our further position that it would be a travesty of justice,’ said Jackson. Also opposing the release are prosecutors and family members of the girls that were killed. Some will have the opportunity to speak to the parole board during the hearing scheduled in Montgomery.
The tragedy, one of the dark moments of the Civil Rights Movement, took place on September 15, 1963, amid white opposition to desegregation of public schools. A powerful bomb went off inside the church, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Morris, also known as Cynthia Wesley.
Blanton, who has denied any involvement, is one of three one-time Klan members convicted several years after the explosion took place. Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry were indicted in 2000 after a reopening of the case by the FBI. Blanton would be convicted in 2001, while Cherry would be convicted in 2002. Cherry has already died in prison. Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and has also died while in prison.
Harvey Henley, 79, was a witness to the bombing and has strong feelings about Blanton’s possible release. “The blast was ‘the loudest thing I ever heard,’ and it shook the ground like a small earthquake. Blanton belongs in prison,” Henley said at a news conference. “He should never set foot outside of that jail cell again,” he said.