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
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
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.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
September 15, 1963- The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
in Birmingham, Alabama is bombed, and four young girls are killed.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover chooses not to prosecute four suspects
because the chance of gaining a conviction was “remote.”
Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley chooses to reopen the bombing
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
After a year-long secret investigation, the FBI reopens the
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
This site presents the events leading up to Cherry’s conviction
for the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham,
This website presents a brief overview of Cherry’s actions in the
The following site summarizes the Cherry trial.
A link to a political cartoon depicting Cherry’s conviction
This site contains an interview with Cherry’s son Tom.
A 1997 article about the bombing investigation.
The following site contains a 1997 speech on the bombing which
was made by former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno.
This site contains a story on the conviction of Cherry.
This site gives an overview of the bombing and Cherry’s conviction.
The following site is an interview with Cherry’s ex-wife conducted
before he was convicted of the bombing.