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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

Purpose behind the 1963 bombing backfired

In 1963, we moved from an upstairs apartment in the central city to a single-family home in the old Adams Township.

Our parents knew that for our family to have a better life, we needed our own home. My siblings and I were used to playing with friends throughout our old neighborhood, so we had to amend our ways to our parents' rules and stay in our own new yard.

I learned that when school started in September we would take a school bus to Ryder School, only several blocks away. After walking to Lincoln School for six years, why take a bus now?

For me, becoming middle class was an adjustment. It didn't help that there hardly were any other black playmates around, and that some neighbors didn't like the idea of a new young black family living nearby.

It was, after all, 1963.

My first trip on the school bus was stressful. I don't recall black children on the bus other than my siblings and me. My fears that we would be victimized by white hatred grew when the bus driver drove in the opposite direction from Ryder School. Everyone else was oblivious to my angst and my sister and brother were perplexed.

My suspicions were a reflection of the times. I knew about the Ku Klux Klan, and that some whites didn't want Negroes - as we were politely called then - to have civil rights. But as it turns out, the bus only had to pick up more pupils; I was relieved to find other black classmates when we finally got to school.

Shortly after school began early that September the worst act of racial hatred of the modern civil rights movement occurred.

On Sunday, Sept. 15, the KKK bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Through the years, each time I see the published photos of Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, I can hardly look into their faces. I am not a relative and do not know their family or friends.

But I could have been one of them - I was the same age as Denise - even though I lived in Toledo, which had its own racial problems.

It's been nearly 39 years since the bombing, and even now I am frustrated that it took so long to close the case. Only a month ago a jury found the last man charged in the bombing guilty on four counts. Bobby Frank Cherry is spending the rest of his life in prison.

One of the other four Klansmen believed to have had a role in the bombing, Herman Frank Cash, died eight years ago before he could be indicted. Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977, then died in prison. Thomas E. Blanton, Jr., was convicted and sentenced to life in 2001.

Perhaps Cherry thought he would get away with his crime. His evil was a topic of laughter with others with similarly corrupt minds.

When convicted he said, “This whole bunch lied all the way through this thing. I told the truth. I don't know why I'm going to jail for nothing.”

Talk about denial. He isn't in jail “for nothing.” He's there for the murders of four children.

Even though the intense racial strain of the times struck fear in the hearts of many black adults who wanted a better life and in children like myself, the Klansmen failed. Their futile attempt to make black Americans want to remain segregated and “stay in their place,” and the Klan's attempt to make white Americans' hearts colder backfired.

The tragedy only fueled blacks' fight for civil rights and made sensible whites compassionate.

The years have been long for the families of Denise, Carole, Addie Mae, and Cynthia.

Tenacious authorities deserve credit, and that includes the FBI - which is much maligned these days - even though it wouldn't please former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. In 1980, the Justice Department reported that in 1965, Hoover prevented the prosecution of the Klansmen.

If one could spin in his grave, Hoover should be dizzy about now, to which I say, “Good.”

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

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