Child Watch® Column:
How Much Do Black Child Lives Matter?

Release Date: July 29, 2016

Marian Wright Edelman

Four little girls were changing into choir robes and chatting in a church restroom preparing for the Youth Sunday services at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. At 10:22 a.m. a bomb previously hidden under the church steps with its timer deliberately set to go off during Sunday morning services exploded. Three 14-year-olds, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, and 11-year-old Denise McNair were killed on that Sunday morning.

Addie loved softball and drawing. Carole was a straight-A student, a member of the science club and the Girl Scouts, and played clarinet in the school band. Cynthia played clarinet too, along with piano, and dreamed of being a teacher. Denise, the youngest, was excited about singing in the youth chorus. Addie’s younger sister Sarah, also in the restroom, lost an eye in the bombing. She remembered Denise had just asked Addie to help her tie the sash on the back of her dress when the bomb went off.

Fifty years later a reporter found many of the surviving children in church that morning had never gotten over the trauma. Addie’s older sister Junie Collins Williams said the two of them had gotten into an argument that day because she’d lost one of Addie’s rings. The next time she saw Addie was when she was asked to identify her sister in the morgue. Her body was so unrecognizable Junie only knew her by her shoes. Barbara Cross, whose father was the church’s pastor, was hit in the head with a light fixture and suffered tremors and fear of loud noises for years afterwards. She said, “I still cry sometimes . . . We didn’t know we were victims of terrorism back then. For years, we tucked it away, and tried to be strong.”

For 14 long years there was absolutely no justice. A 1965 FBI investigation confirmed White supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members Robert Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash and Thomas E. Blanton, Jr. as the suspects, but it was not until 1977 that Chambliss was tried and convicted of the first degree murder of Denise McNair. The girls’ families suffered still another quarter century of injustice. Herman Cash was never tried for the murders, and died in 1994. Finally the families’ agonizing wait was over when Thomas Blanton in 2001 and Bobby Cherry in 2002 were finally convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Blanton and Cherry had walked free for 39 and 40 years respectively before being brought to justice.

Chambliss and Cherry died in jail. This August 3, Thomas Blanton will be eligible for his first parole hearing after serving just fifteen years of his four life sentences. He bragged about the murders for decades before his conviction and never expressed remorse for his actions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described his despair saying that if men could be that bestial maybe there really was no hope. A loud chorus of voices are joining together to say any parole and release would not be sufficient justice for the murder of four little girls. Justice requires Thomas Blanton serve the rest of his life in prison. An early release would signal how little the lives of four precious little Black girls mattered to their killers in 1963 and in 2016 America.

Carole Robertson was deeply involved in Jack and Jill of America, a family organization founded by Black mothers to instill values and leadership skills in their children. Jack and Jill chapters honor Carole every September with educational and social programs about civil rights, human rights, and racial harmony. This year Jack and Jill mothers across the country are joining surviving family members and others in the #Justice4Carole campaign, writing and calling Alabama’s Board of Pardons and Paroles demanding minimal justice for these child lives snuffed out so maliciously, and that parole for this “unrepentant racist” and “vicious mass murderer” be denied.

I stand with them and hope you will too so that on August 3 justice will prevail! Reverend Carolyn McKinstry, who was another child survivor of the bombing, says today: “This season of justice in America is becoming frighteningly reminiscent of the season in which Addie, Carol, Cynthia, and Denise were murdered. Our country is in a war for its soul. America still has an opportunity to get it right and save itself. We need that arc not just to bend towards justice, but complete the evolution.”

I strongly oppose capital punishment which Blanton and his evil co-conspirators so viciously inflicted on Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley because they were Black. But I do support punishment which at least tries to proximate his heinous crime. This unremorseful prisoner snuffed out four sacred child lives and escaped punishment for decades. He should die in prison for his inhumane atrocious crime.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by His child at: September 10, 2016
This is a most important and compelling synopsis of one of the countless examples of hate and injustice. My prayer is that we learn from it and move toward love and maturity as a society.

Submitted by dlmp at: August 9, 2016
I agree with bfkm that much is different and much is the same. It appears we have come a long ways in ending these horrible crimes but today we appear to be going backwards.. It saddens me to see this. These men and any others who commit such crimes need to have severe and swift consequences. Keep this man in jail until he dies there..

Submitted by Ken Dickson at: August 3, 2016
This is an excellent column! I am constantly enriched by Mrs. Edelman's contributions! Regarding Blanton - there aren't enough lifetimes that he could serve to vindicate the vicious act that he did! Keep him locked up! He should be happy to be locked up until he has his last breath to breathe on this earth. The eternal breaths he will have after he dies and goes to hell and Saten will be significantly difficult and really in accordance with his evil heinous racist act. My only regret now is that good taxpayer dollars continue to keep his worthless life going until hell consumes him. His family should reimburse us for keeping him until that time.

Submitted by jo at: August 2, 2016
Let justice be served! No release!!

Submitted by Soretti at: August 2, 2016
This country has a opportunity to be judged as a country that can be righteous, if not making the wrong decision and letting this evil go free man go free would truly be the disclosure of America's evil ways and they will be judged by the world with this one and no longer should be aloud to lead the world in anything. Their statements and thoughts of any injustice in the world should come to death ears for this is a dead country to me if they let this evil man go!

Submitted by Robin at: August 2, 2016
Thank you for your wonderful summation of a horrific historic event. For those not old enough to remember, this was an atrocity and yes, the murderers openly bragged for years about their deed. I encourage everyone to prevent the parole of KKK member Thomas Blanton, Jr.

Submitted by Joe McLaughlin at: August 2, 2016
We must remember that crimes like these result from racism and bigotry. No to death penalty, but let them live out their lives in jail in the knowing that they are held accountable for their horrible crime.

Submitted by Anonymous at: August 2, 2016
Thank you for making more people aware of this, and for standing up for injustice, and for racial equality.

Submitted by Kitzula at: August 2, 2016
All lives matter.. yes, there is discrimination in the world.. minorities and religions are targeted. Likewise, we don't feel justice because of decades of bad examples of it not being served. Likewise, we incarcerate murders and the worst of society for a's biggest shortcoming is "life".. We have been too generous at the expense of the victims and surviving families by denying the death penalty.. we are the only capital punishment country in the world that allows automatic appeals for the guilty to last decades... that is illogical.. No wonder we become "bleeding hearts" for the guilty..the crime is diminished in our eyes a generation or two later. Then there is the challanged to death by gentle injection....illogical.. We should think about how the victim (s) died... maybe use the same method to put em away. My point being, people like the criminals who execute others should be held responsible and forfeit their life in retribution... keep capital punisment, then we don't have to hear about the murders of children and loved ones being considered for parole... like those who killed the children, MLK, Bobby Kennedy, mass murderers, etc etc etc..

Submitted by Elizabeth Evans at: July 31, 2016
America is fighting for it's soul which has been eaten up by the cancer of hatred and fear of being powerless to inflict domination over others! It is the same disease that has destroyed other countries and civilizations before us. If we continue down this path we will fal victim to civil war and self- destruct. Globally children have been under attack, abused and forgotten and they will inherit this mess we are creating and allowing to erupt across the world. The Pope held a Youth Mass yesterday knowing that our hope for justice, peace, love, and compassion lies in their gifts of divinity. We must stand united in fighting any injustice and crimes against humanity such as the deaths of these 4 little girls who had a birth right to fulfill their life's purpose! If we don't stand up and before our children we have failed them and failed our life's purpose!

Submitted by juju at: July 30, 2016
what a crime that these barbarians have not been in jail for the last 4 decades, and Blanton should never be released.

Submitted by rev cunningham at: July 30, 2016
I too was in sunday school in rochester,ny when the bomb went off. As a youngster we were terrified, hurt and sadden that tradgedy could strike at church. Our moms hugged us a little tighter after the service that day. I never will forget the look on my friends face. My mom and dad just kept saying "Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy

Submitted by mb at: July 30, 2016
Let Blanton die in prison. Four beautiful little girls already died in their prison which he helped to create. He should receive no less.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 30, 2016
I agree. This murderer should NOT be released. The empty chasm where his soul should be is filled with vitriol, hate. Society needs to send the message saying that this kind of barbarism is unacceptable - completely and wholly unacceptable! So we must say that those who carry that kind of barbarism can never be accepted back into society.

Submitted by jkaigh at: July 30, 2016
Thanking Ms. Edelman for her good work - for reminding us that we can do better - BUT if only we stand together.

Submitted by bluckeycharm at: July 29, 2016
I want to ask churches all over the country to pray this Sunday for Justice for the Birmingham 4 Little Girls.

Submitted by bfkm at: July 29, 2016
Thank you for collecting these stories and bringing them to us today. Much is different, but much is the same. There remains much left to do.

Submitted by BusyB at: July 29, 2016
This is a part of history I will never forget. I was close in age with them. When does it end?

Submitted by April at: July 29, 2016
I totally agree with you regarding this travesty of justice. It appears to be two sets of laws established and administered to those who are White and to those who are Black and Brown. These so called men did not deserve to go unpunished for so long after the murder of those young girls. They should have been brought to trial immediately and sentenced for their part in their deaths. The law states that criminals have a right to a speedy trial, yet, this injustice lingered on for years. It would seem that the federal government would have stepped in and presided over the cases of these families to at least show how justice is administered to all of its U.S. citizens throughout the country. What does this say about the laws of this country and how these laws are carried out? Why are these types of groups even still allowed to exist and carry out their racists views and tactics among Blacks and other minorities? Is the federal government frightened of the Ku Klux Klan, or do they ascribe to this groups behavior when it comes to the lynchings, bombings, shootings, murders, etc.? I find it hard to believe that any group of such a nature still exists in the United States of America, but sadly it does, and it seems as though anyone who is in any position to do something about it turns a blind eye to the injustices being carried out by these so called White men (monsters). All White people aren't bad, I do believe that, but the ones who carry out such horrific deeds should be tried and judged like anyone else in this society. I can hardly imagine the psychological damage these families of these four young girls have gone through, so much of these types of actions reminds one of slavery and what our ancestors went through and survived in this country.

Submitted by Lindy at: July 29, 2016
All children deserve safe, loving and responsive environments to grow up in. Our youngest children(birth-5) are not prejudiced, they only notice differences (in gender, ability, ethnicity) BUT don't put a judgement on these differences. The brain tunes in to novel or different experiences for the child. It's the adults who say, this is bad or good. Let's learn from our children.