Katie Couric looks back at the day that the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama. After the bodies of four girls are found buried in the rubble, the crime becomes a turning point in the struggle for civil rights.
40th Anniversary of Birmingham Church Bombing
KATIE COURIC, co-host: Today marks the 40th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a crime of racial hatred that shocked the nation and became a crucial turning point in the struggle for civil rights. In 1963, the signs of racial segregation were everywhere in the South, especially Birmingham, Alabama.
Mr. GEORGE WALLACE (Former Alabama Governor): We shall continue our fight to keep separation of the races here within our state.
COURIC: Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church was considered a major gathering place for those involved in the civil rights movement.
Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr.: There is a job to do in Birmingham, Alabama, and I'm going to at home in Birmingham until that job is done.
COURIC: It was also home to a vibrant congregation. Forty years ago today on a Sunday morning four little girls were killed when dynamite exploded inside the church. The bodies of 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and 11-year-old Carol Denise McNair were found buried in the rubble. Though members of the Ku Klux Klan have long been suspected of the bombing, the FBI closed the case in 1968 without filing charges. But in the 1970s, the investigation was re-opened and Robert Chambliss was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He later died in jail. Another suspect died before being charged. In May of 2000, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were also charged with the murders. Both were recently found guilty and sentenced to life in prison; long-awaited justice for one of the worst crimes of the civil rights era.
President Barack Obama declared five new national monuments Thursday ranging from a Birmingham, Alabama, church bombed by segregationists to the coniferous forests of Oregon.