The last convicted terrorist from the Birmingham church died in prison.

The bomb toppled a basement wall, killing Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11, in a room they used to change into their choir robes.

“Her role in the hate act of September 15, 1963, robbed four innocent girls of their lives and wounded many others,” Ivey said in a statement. “That was a dark day that will never be forgotten in both Alabama and our nation’s history.”

“Although his passing will never completely eliminate pain or restore loss of life, I pray on behalf of the loved ones of all concerned that our entire state can continue to take steps to create a better Alabama for future generations,” said Ivey. . “Let us never forget that Sunday morning in September 1963 and the four young women whose lives ended too soon, but let us continue to take steps forward to heal, improve, and honor those who sacrificed everything for Alabama and our nation to be a home of opportunity to everyone “.

Blanton was 82 when he died after suffering cardiac arrest Friday at the William Donaldson Correctional Center, according to the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.

“Preliminary autopsy results found no evidence of trauma or foul play, but revealed that the deceased had significant natural illness consistent with his known documented medical history,” deputy chief medical examiner Bill Yates said in a statement.

Impact on the civil rights movement

The Klan targeted the church because it was a leading African-American institution and served as a staging area for marches that faced fierce resistance from Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor, a brutality that has lived on television footage and defines the city ​​for many people. this day.

The Klan hoped that the attacks would derail the movement as the marches had won concessions from local leaders and the state had begun integrating schools days before the bombing. But historians contend that the church bombing marked a turning point in the civil rights movement and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Brothers of the bombing: remembering the explosion of the Birmingham church 50 years later

President John F. Kennedy expressed his hope after the bombing that it would spur action against racial hatred.

“If these cruel and tragic events can only awaken that city and state, if they can only awaken this entire nation to realize the madness of racial injustice, hatred and violence, then it is not too late for all Stakeholders join in steps towards peaceful progress before more lives are lost, “he said.

Fifty years after the attack, President Barack Obama awarded the four girls posthumous Congressional gold medals.

At the 2013 medal ceremony, House Speaker John Boehner recalled details of the girls’ lives.

Addie Mae went door to door after school selling aprons and pot holders her mother made. Denise parodied in the garage to raise money for the muscular dystrophy investigation.

Carole made sure her homework was done so she could go to dance classes on Saturdays, while Cynthia excelled in math and band.

The brothers of the victims remember the anniversary of the attack

In a 2008 NPR interview, Chris McNair recalled seeing his daughter’s body the day it shocked the nation.

“We headed to a hospital, we walked around and found someone else who had been to the morgue,” Michele Norris told reporter. “And there were all four of them, side by side at the table. And Denise was lying there with a mortar, it looked like a rock, crushed on her head.”

McNair’s sister Lisa released a statement after Blanton’s death, obtained by CNN affiliate WBRC.

“I wish I could have sat down with him to find out if he had changed his mind. But ultimately, I hope he would repent to the Lord for this sin and make amends before he died,” he said. .

Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who indicted Blanton as the Alabama American attorney in 2001, posted on Twitter: “No matter what I do in my life, I will always be very proud to achieve justice for those 4 girls. Blanton never expiated for their sins, but their passing right now seems appropriate. The journey to racial justice is a long one, but I think America is ready to finish it together. “

Hunting for justice

Blanton avoided justice for 38 years before his 2001 conviction, but not because the case was a bona fide mystery. Within days, the FBI suspected Blanton and fellow KKK members Robert Edward Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, and Herman Frank Cash were responsible for the attack after civil rights protests and other bombings shook the city nicknamed “Bombingham “

Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley convicted 73-year-old Chambliss in 1977 after reopening the case in 1971, and then the case remained dormant for decades. Chambliss died in prison in 1985.

Birmingham 16th Baptist Church Bomber Denied Conditional

Baxley argued that the FBI, which had informants on the Klan in the 1960s and wiretapped members of the Klan, would not share the information that would allow it to build a case against Blanton, Cherry, and Cash.

In 1997, after other successful prosecutions for murders during the civil rights era, the FBI’s Birmingham office reopened the case. Jones, the American attorney for the Northern District of Alabama during the Clinton administration, made it a personal crusade.

Cherry, who was convicted in 2002, died in prison in 2004. Cash, who died in 1994, was never charged in the case.

In 2016, Blanton had asked the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to let him die as a free man, but the panel denied his request, ruling that he would not be eligible again until 2021.