Images of Alabama

Birmingham: Bobby Frank Cherry

In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama was one of the most resolutely segregated cities in the South. The city chose to disband its baseball team rather than desegregate and attempted to ban all “black” music from “white” radio stations. Furthermore, police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor had a reputation for holding the African American population in contempt as well as violently suppressing any civil rights action.

Late in 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began a campaign against the racial inequality that pervaded Birmingham society. Mass arrests were made in the wake of non-violent sit-ins and demonstrations. The nation was appalled to see news coverage of the Birmingham police force attacking peaceful protesters with dogs and water hoses. Connor went so far as to have media representatives attacked as well. Further support for civil rights grew after scenes of child protesters being arrested were shown across the country and throughout the world. By May of 1963, over 1,300 children had been arrested.

The tensions in Birmingham reached a climax on the morning of September 15, 1963. As members of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church prepared for Sunday school and services, a bomb was detonated under the building. Dozens of people were injured and four young girls, Denise McNair (11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14), were killed in the blast.

The FBI took over investigation of the case. In 1965, a recommendation was made that four men be charged with the murders. However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refused to pursue the case because he felt there was little chance of securing any convictions.

The case was not reopened until 1971, and in 1977 Robert E. Chambliss, one of the original suspects, was tried for the murder of eleven year old Denise McNair. Chambliss was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, but no charges were filed against the other three original suspects.

In 1994, Herman Cash, one of the suspects in the bombing, died without charges ever being brought against him. By 1997, the FBI was again seriously looking into the case, and in 2000 the last suspects, Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton Jr., were finally indicted on first degree murder charges.

On May 2, 2001, Thomas Blanton Jr. was convicted of four counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The next year, on May 22, 2002, Bobby Frank Cherry, the last suspect, was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison almost forty years after the bombing took place. The families of the slain girls and many citizens of Birmingham felt that a measure of justice had finally been served.


September 15, 1963- The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama is bombed, and four young girls are killed.

1965-                                FBI director J. Edgar Hoover chooses not to prosecute four suspects because the chance of gaining a conviction was “remote.”

1978-                                Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley chooses to reopen the bombing investigation.

1977-                                Robert Chambliss is convicted of murdering Denise McNair, one of the girls killed in the blast.

October 29, 1985-     Chambliss dies at the age of 81. He never admitted to having any part in the church bombing.

1997-                                After a year-long secret investigation, the FBI reopens the case.

May 17, 2000-             Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry are indicted on first degree murder charges for their involvement in the church bombing.

May 1, 2001-                Thomas Blanton Jr. is found guilty of four counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

May 22, 2002-             Bobby Frank Cherry is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Cherry Sites

This site presents the events leading up to Cherry’s conviction for the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
@ http://crime.about.com/library/weekly/aabirmingham.htm

This website presents a brief overview of Cherry’s actions in the bombing.
@ http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0903475.html

The following site summarizes the Cherry trial.
@ http://www.useekufind.com/peace/cherry_guilty.htm

A link to a political cartoon depicting Cherry’s conviction
@ http://crime.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=

This site contains an interview with Cherry’s son Tom.
@ http://www.useekufind.com/peace/a_sinsofthefather.htm

A 1997 article about the bombing investigation.
@ http://www.4littlegirls.com/97news.htm

The following site contains a 1997 speech on the bombing which was made by former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno.
@ http://www.4littlegirls.com/renospch.htm

This site contains a story on the conviction of Cherry.
@ http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/news/WABC_052202_klan.html

This site gives an overview of the bombing and Cherry’s conviction.
@ http://www.freep.com/news/nw/albomb23_20020523.htm

The following site is an interview with Cherry’s ex-wife conducted before he was convicted of the bombing.
@ http://www.useekufind.com/peace/cherryexwife.htm






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This project has been supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent Federal Agency. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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