One of the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black Birmingham church in 1963 is up for parole after serving 15 years in federal prison for murder.
According to the Associated Press, 78-year-old Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. is about to become eligible for early release, but civil rights leaders and activists believe he should remain imprisoned.
Blanton is one of three men convicted in the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, which at the time was a gathering place for civil rights protesters. He was indicted for the crime in 2000 along with Bobby Frank Cherry when the FBI reopened the case. Cherry has since died behind bars.
The Alabama Parole Board will hold a hearing in Montgomery on Wednesday to determine whether Blanton is eligible for early release.
Hezekiah Jackson — president of the Birmingham chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — said at a press conference on Friday that for Blanton to walk free, particularly when the nation is struggling with issues of police brutality against black Americans, would send the wrong message.
“It is our further position that it would be a travesty of justice,” he said.
Prosecutors and the girls’ surviving family members are against the release and some may appear at the hearing in an attempt to convince the board that Blanton should stay in prison.
On Sep. 15, 1963, members of the Klan planted a large explosive device under the front steps of 16th Street Baptist. When the bomb went off, it killed 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Morris, also known as Cynthia Wesley.
Klansman Robert Chambliss — known as “Dynamite Bob” — was tried and convicted of involvement in the bombing in 1977. He died behind bars in 1985.
Harvey Henley, 79, told a news conference on Friday that he was home just a few blocks from the church when the bomb detonated. It was “the loudest thing I ever heard,” he said.
Blanton, said Henley, “should never set foot outside of that jail cell again.”