May 7, 2001
On May 1, 38 years after he helped carry out the Sunday morning bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Thomas Blanton, Jr. was convicted of murdering the four girls who died in that blast. One of these girls was 11 at the time. The three others were 14 years old.
Blanton is only the second of the four prime suspects in the bombing to be prosecuted. Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and died in jail 8 years later. Herman Cash died never having been charged. Bobby Frank Cherry is alive, but unlikely to be prosecuted, because he has been judged mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Douglas Jones, the prosecutor in Blanton's trial, told reporters, "They say that justice delayed is justice denied, and folks I don't believe that for a minute. Justice delayed is still justice, and we've got it here in Birmingham, Alabama."
Of course, the criminals who killed four young girls should have been tried and convicted.
But that's not the whole story. Because justice was delayed –and thus denied –for almost four decades by the very same federal government which always pretended to be the defenders of the black population against KKK-style violence. The most critical pieces of evidence were the two tape recordings made of Blanton on which he effectively admitted to the bombings. Bill Baxley, the former attorney general of Alabama who prosecuted Bob Chambliss in 1977, revealed that in 1977 the FBI denied the existence of any such evidence.
Baxley says that if the FBI hadn't hidden these recordings from him during his investigation in 1977, he would have succeeded in putting both Blanton and Cherry in jail along with Chambliss back at that time –24 years ago.
In fact it goes further back than 1977. The FBI had these tapes ever since they were made in 1964. In all these years since 1964, there were hundreds of other victims of KKK violence in the South.
If there had been a government prosecution in 1964 –how many of those other victims might never have been killed? If the cowards who made up the KKK knew at the time that they would have to pay the price for their violence, would they have been so ready to kill, maim and terrorize?
The FBI may try to pretend it was simply protecting its informants so as to gather more information. For what? Not to prosecute when it would have made a difference.
Decades later proof surfaced that the FBI was aware in advance, not just afterwards, of many of the killings that took place. It did nothing to warn the intended victims of these plans. Nothing to offer them protection. Nothing to foil the plans.
Yes, the FBI and federal government finally did move to a prosecution in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 –but not until cities were burning, not until the black population went into the streets to put an end to the violence and indignities which they had suffered. (But even here there's a big question whether the real killers were prosecuted. The family of Martin Luther King says no.) It was not the FBI which offered the black population protection. It was the black population themselves.
Long before the courts and prosecutors, federal and state, moved to pretend they would do something –the black population had beaten back the cowards of the KKK and taken justice for themselves.