Nov 14, 2012

Chambliss Letters Available

Damage at the Church, 1963
     Letters written by the first man convicted of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963 have been released by The Birmingham Public Library.
     Robert Chambliss never admits guilt, but in one letter to his wife Flora he writes...

.......that he has been hearing on the news that he is guilty and will serve a life
sentence, but he maintains his innocence, stating “I have never Harmed anyone The Biggest Harm I’ve ever done to anyone Was to My Self” (5-21-79 #2). Chambliss urges Flora to have her brother Howard contact Billy Holt, who will be able to tell Howard who was “in on” the bombing; Chambliss then claims that the mayor, Art Hanes Sr., and police commissioner, Bull Connor, of Birmingham during 1963 “know all about the Bombing” (5-28-79).

     I was in the Jefferson County courtroom in 1977 when Chambliss was convicted, and I remember him denying guilt then too. Our news department (WERC Radio) broke the story that Attorney General Bill Baxley was reopening the investigation into the bombing in the first place.
     The library has a transcript of the trial available online.
     A second Klansman, Thomas Blanton, was convicted in 2001.
     Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the eulogy for the four little girls who died in the bombing. He said that the children...

...say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

     The Klansmen were the only ones convicted of the deaths, but I always wondered about the people who made that "way of life" possible, whether they too were guilty.
    Two other young black Birmingham residents died that day too...one shot in the back by police for throwing rocks, the other---Virgil Ware--- shot to death by a white teen as he rode his bicycle.
     Next September will be the 50th Anniversary of that bloody day in Birmingham.

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