Ex-Klansman gets life sentence for ’63 Birmingham church bombing – National Report – Brief Article
It took nearly four decades to close the books on what was considered one of the single most heinous acts of the civil rights era, but in the end the last man of a broken sect of Ku Klux Klansmen was locked away for his role in the 1963 Birmingham, AL, church bombing that blasted the life from four little girls.
A racially mixed jury took less than seven hours of deliberation before finding Bobby Frank Cherry, 71, guilty of first-degree murder. He was convicted of helping to plant a bomb under the stairs at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963. The explosion killed Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, as they prepared for Sunday morning worship service.
Cherry was automatically sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“We feel like we can go on with our lives now,” said Junie Collins Peavy, sister of the late Addle Mae.
Sarah Collins Rudolph, now 51, last remembers seeing her sister alive as she was tying the sash on Denise McNair’s dress. “I feel at ease now,” Rudolph said. “We have been waiting on this day for a long time.”
“I hope that, having come this far, that Black people and White people can get together and protest any injustice,” said the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, 80, a leader of Birmingham’s Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and ’60s. “I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to be in the city.”
Shuttlesworth, considered the father of that city’s Civil Rights Movement, had a run-in with Cherry during the 1960s when Cherry attacked him with brass knuckles as Shuttlesworth tried to enroll his daughter in a White public school.
The bombing trial is the latest from at least a dozen civil rights-era cases to be revived by prosecutors in the last several years; cases that could not have been won in the racially intolerant South of past decades.
Many of the legal proceedings, long forgotten by the public, have been kept alive by family members who have pleaded with federal and state prosecutors over the years to seek justice for their loved ones.
Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in 1994 of assassinating civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963, and former Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers was convicted four years ago of the 1966 firebomb-killing of an NAACP leader.
Cherry was the last suspect tried in the 1963 church bombing case. Last year Thomas Blanton Jr. was the second former Klan member put on trial for the bombing of the church (JET, May 21, 2001). He was convicted to four consecutive life sentences. Robert “Dynamite” Bob Chambliss was convicted of murder in 1977. He died in prison. Another former Klansman, Herman Cash, died without being charged.
Prosecutors described Cherry as an unrepentant racist who bragged, even in recent years, of helping to make the bomb and planting it at the church. Cherry was a well-known, core member of the most violent wing of Birmingham’s Klan, they said.
And they produced witnesses such as ex-wife Willadean Brogdon, who testified that Cherry told her he had placed the bomb underneath the church, and granddaughter Teresa Stacy, who recalled Cherry bragging that “he helped blow up a bunch of [Black people] back in Birmingham.”
“The price of freedom is suffering, perseverance and endurance. If Blacks and Whites can learn from this, Birmingham can be one of the greatest cities in the world,” said Shuttlesworth, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It is ridiculous that justice can be delayed, but America has said today that justice will come even if it takes 40 years.”
COPYRIGHT 2002 Johnson Publishing Co.
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