Toward justice in Birmingham

Sunday horror: After 37 years, two men are indicted for bombing that killed four little girls died.

May 19, 2000

IF IGNORANCE and evil hadn't intervened, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley would be women in their late 40s or early 50s.

This week in Birmingham, two men were indicted for the infamous church bombing that took their lives 37 years ago. One man was tried and convicted in the case earlier; he died in prison in 1985.

The 1963 explosion at Birminham's 16th Street Baptist Church became an international symbol of the viciousness of opposition to the civil rights movement.

On a more personal note, a generation of African-American children were scarred by news of the event.

One of them was Freeman A. Hrabowski III, a Birmingham native who is now president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "From that moment on, my friends and I didn't feel safe for years - not even church could protect us from the horrors of hatred," he wrote in 1998 on the page opposite this editorial page.

The bombing marked a turning point in the civil rights movement, with many in the South no longer able to claim their opposition was about protecting a way of life. In much the same way, Wednesday's indictments by an Alabama grand jury - coming so long after the fact - are a landmark for Southern justice.

While all defendants must be regarded as innocent until proved guilty, both Thomas E. Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry had been long considered suspects and are said to have boasted of their involvement with the bombing. For the families and friends of the four little girls, the announcement of their indictments must have been bittersweet.

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