On September 15, 1963, Ku Klux Klan members detonated a bomb just before Sunday service at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four little Black girls and injuring nearly two dozen parishioners at the historically Black church.
Yesterday (August 3), the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles decided that Thomas Blanton Jr.—the last living man convicted for killing Addie Mae Collins (14 years old), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14)—is not ready to rejoin society outside the walls of St. Clair County Correctional Facility. AL.com reports that it took the two-person board about 80 seconds to deny Blanton parole.
Blanton was convicted in 2001—38 years after the deadly blast. He is 15 years into four life sentences, but he was convicted under (now-updated) laws on the books in 1963, which did not allow for life without parole. The board pushed his next parole hearing to 2021; five years is the maximum time allowed between hearings.
Two other White men were convicted of the charges related to the bombing; Bobby Frank Cherry and Robert Chambliss both died in prison. Herman Cash was a suspected conspirator, but he was never charged. He died in 1994.
Family members of each of the slain girls appeared at the hearing. No one attended to speak on Blanton’s behalf. Prosecutors told the board that denying Blanton’s parole would send an important message.
“Whether it’s racial issues, whether it’s gender issues, whether it is terrorist activities similar to what Mr. Blanton perpetrated in 1963, the message is that we have to stop the hate and we will punish those who kill or maim in the name of hate,” Doug Jones, the former U.S. attorney designated to prosecute Blanton, told the parole board. “And the message I think that has to be sent is that the state of Alabama is not going to tolerate that hate of any kind anymore. We are a better people and we will continue to be a better people.”
Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls agreed, making it clear that he did not feel Blanton’s 15 years in prison was enough to account for his actions. “This was a crime against four children. This was a crime against a church and its congregation. This was a crime against an entire race of people,” he said during the hearing.