Thomas Blanton, Alabama Church KKK Bomber in 1963, dies in prison

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., the last of the three members of the Ku Klux Klans convicted of an attack on the Alabama church in 1963 that killed four black girls and was the deadliest attack by the civil rights movement, died in prison , the governor’s office said Friday. He was 81 years old.

In May 2001, Blanton was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

When the judge asked if he had any comments, Blanton said, “I think the good Lord will solve it on the day of judgment.”

Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said Blanton died of natural causes.

The church blitz, exposing the depths of white supremacist hatred as Birmingham integrated its public schools, was a turning point in the civil rights movement. The moderates could no longer remain silent and the fight to overthrow the segregation laws gained new momentum.

The investigation into the bombing stopped early and was inactive for long periods, but two other former Klans members, Robert Chambliss and Bobby Frank Cherry, were also convicted in the attack in separate trials. Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and died in prison in 1985. Cherry was convicted in 2002 and died in prison in 2004.

Investigators and bystanders outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, after an explosion that killed four girls on September 16, 1963.AP file

On September 15, 1963, a bomb went through an outer wall of the brick church, killing four girls who were inside preparing for a youth program. The bodies of Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, 14, were found in the downstairs living room.

Collins’ sister Sarah Collins Rudolph survived the explosion but lost her right eye. Shards of glass remained on her chest, left eye, and abdomen for decades after the explosion.

A probation hearing is scheduled for next year for Blanton. “We were preparing to be there to oppose it,” said Rudolph’s husband George Rudolph.

During the trial, then-US Attorney Doug Jones, appointed as the state’s special prosecutor, said Blanton acted in response to months of civil rights protests. The target church was a rallying point for protesters.

“Tom Blanton saw the change and didn’t like it,” Jones, now a Democratic senator from the United States, said at the trial.

Blanton proclaimed his innocence years after being sent to prison. In a 2006 interview with Birmingham’s WBRC-TV station, he claimed that the government used false evidence and lies to obtain his conviction.

“I think the government created me intelligently … and that is why I am here,” Blanton said from the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama. “I’m sorry it happened. I’m deeply sorry. But I am not responsible for it. “

A 1993 meeting in Birmingham between FBI officials and black ministers led to the reopening of the bombing case against Blanton and Cherry. The investigation remained silent until 1997 when officers went to Texas to speak to Cherry.

A decade earlier, the United States Department of Justice concluded that former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had blocked the prosecution of members of the police in the attack.