Doug Jones Recounts Church Bombing Prosecution in New Book

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Ralph Alswang

The Klansmen who bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four black girls, did not face justice for years. In 1977, then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley won a conviction against Robert Chambliss for his role in the attack. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that two others were tried and convicted. Senator Doug Jones led those later prosecutions and writes about it in his memoir “Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Cvil Rights.”

WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with Jones about the book.

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Interview Highlights

Cutting class in law school to watch the Chambliss trial:

“As a lawyer, or a lawyer-wanna-be at the time, it was an amazing experience to see very, very good lawyers … but to understand and see how deeply the bombing had affected people and how that conviction of Chambliss was such an amazing thing to happen in 1977. You understand, I think, how deeply people feel about the need for justice and some type of, not just redemption, but I think a sense of justice and a sense of healing that that brought to the community even though people knew that there were still others that were not being prosecuted.”

Visiting convicted bomber Thomas Blanton in prison:

“I’ve always believed that one of the things that was missing in our case was a sense of reconciliation for the community. We got a measure of redemption, but not true reconciliation … I thought just maybe this last chance with Blanton, who is getting older, who is not in great health, who is likely to die in prison if he doesn’t do something to accept some responsibility, I just thought it was worth a shot. I really believe that some acceptance of that responsibility in telling the story, and Tommy Blanton is the last hope for that. But apparently he will go to his grave with all the secrets.”

Running for reelection in 2020 when Democrats still face long odds in Alabama:

“I see a path to victory the same way we did in 2017 and that is focusing on the issues that we have in common, focusing on issues that people talk about every day with their families, and not the issues that divide us. You’re already seeing this divisive rhetoric coming from the other side and that’s just typical. I think people are tired of that.”

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