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Wed, 05.15.2002

Church Bombing Hate Crime Tried 39 Years Later

Bobby Cherry

On this date in 2002, the last of the bomb killers of four Black children in Alabama was convicted.

Closing the books on one of the deadliest crimes of the civil rights era, a jury convicted an aging former Klansman of murder for the 1963 church bombing that shook the nation's soul. The verdict, reached by a racially mixed jury in less than seven hours of deliberation, brought tears from relatives on both sides and a statement of defiance from the 71-year-old defendant, Bobby Frank Cherry.

He was automatically sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Asked by the judge if he had any comment, Cherry stood and pointed directly at prosecutors. "This whole bunch lied all the way through this thing," his Southern drawl steady and clear in the courtroom. "I told the truth. I don't know why I'm going to jail for nothing." The crime exposed the chilling depth of racial hatred that Black protesters faced in the 20th-century Deep South.  It also helped bring racial moderates off the sidelines in the civil rights struggle. Within two years, as protests spread in the wake of the bombing, Congress passed federal civil rights and voting rights laws.

Two other ex-Klansman were convicted earlier and sent to prison, and a fourth suspect died without being charged. Evidence showed Cherry was a suspect within days of the bombing, and he moved his family to Texas in the early 1970s. A retired trucker, he had most recently lived in Mabank, southeast of Dallas. Cherry always denied involvement in the bombing publicly and in a series of interviews with investigators.



Image: Associated Press

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