Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case

Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case

Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case

Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case


It was a time when Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders rallied black youth and adults to march for their civil rights, a time when the Ku Klux Klan was active in cities and throughout the countryside of the Deep South, employing 19th-century tactics to intimidate blacks to stay β€œin their place.” It was also the year that the worst act of terrorism in the entire civil rights movement occurred just as Birmingham, Alabama, was coming under close national scrutiny.

This book tells the story of one grim Sunday in September 1963 when an intentionally planted cache of dynamite ripped through the walls of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and ended the dreams and the lives of four young black girls. Their deaths spurred the Kennedy administration to send an army of FBI agents to Alabama and led directly to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. When the Justice Department was unable to bring anyone to trial for this heinous crime, a young Alabama attorney general named Bill Baxley began his own investigation to find the perpetrators. In 1977, 14 years after the bombing, Baxley brought one Klansman to trial and, in a courtroom only blocks from the bombed church (now a memorial to the victims), persuaded a jury to return a guilty verdict. More than 20 years later two other perpetrators were tried for the bombing, found guilty, and remanded to prison.

Frank Sikora has used the court records, FBI reports, oral interviews, and newspaper accounts to weave a story of spellbinding proportions. A reporter by profession, Sikora tells this story compellingly, explaining why the civil rights movement had to be successful and how Birmingham had to change.


Of all the acts of terrorism that marked the civil rights era in the American South, none was more sickening than the deed that took place in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday, September 15, 1963. A bomb exploded that morning at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and took the lives of four black girls.

The victims were Denise McNair, age eleven, and Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley, all fourteen years old. They were at the church that Sunday morning simply to take part in the services and to be ushers. The Ku Klux Klansman who had set the bomb at the church had no idea when it might detonate or who might be injured or killed when it did.

The bombing had occurred at a time when Birmingham, as well as the entire state of Alabama, was in turmoil over school desegregation. Federal courts had ordered a total of twenty-four black children, including five in Birmingham, to be admitted to all-white public schools in Alabama. But the girls killed at the church had not been involved in any of that, nor had they been participants in earlier civil rights marches and demonstrations in Birmingham, which had been led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were just four girls, all in the springtime of their lives.

Two hundred FBI agents interviewed hundreds of persons, but the agency could never come up with the evidence and witnesses that officials believed would be needed to prosecute the case. It has been argued that in 1963, when any jury in Alabama would have consisted of . . .

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