|April 10, 2014 - The former Alabama Attorney General and U.S. Attorney who successfully prosecuted three former Klansmen for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls will speak in Knoxville at a free event on Friday, April 25.
Former Attorney General Bill Baxley and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones will speak at 9 a.m. that day at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, 1807 Dandridge Ave. The event is sponsored by the City of Knoxville, the Knoxville Bar Association, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission. The moderator will be the Rev. Charles Fels of Church of the Good Shepherd, who is also a former state and federal prosecutor.
The event is part of the City of Knoxville's ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For a full calendar of events, see www.cityofknoxville.org/civilrightsact.
The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on Sept. 15, 1963, became one of the most notorious atrocities of the civil rights struggle. A bomb planted under the steps of the church exploded shortly before Sunday services, killing four girls: Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14).
Although four suspects were identified early in the investigation, nobody was charged with the murders. Bill Baxley, a law student at the University of Alabama at the time of the bombing, was elected the state's Attorney General in 1971 and reopened the case. In 1977, he successfully brought murder charges against Robert Edward Chambliss, one of the men involved in building and planting the bomb.
Doug Jones, a native of Birmingham, was 9 years old when the bombing happened. In 1997, he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, shortly after the case had been reopened again by federal prosecutors. Digging through FBI files and tracking down witnesses, Jones successfully brought charges against Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry. (The fourth suspect, Herman Frank Cash, died in 1994 without ever being charged.)
Chambliss and Cherry died in prison, in 1985 and 2004 respectively. Blanton is serving a life sentence. Baxley and Jones are both attorneys in private practice in Birmingham.