On February 28 1976, Bill Baxley (born June 27, 1941), Attorney General of Alabama (1971 – 1979), replied to a letter from white supremacist Edward R. Fields – founder of the National States’ Rights Party and Grand Dragon of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1971 Baxley had ordered the law to look again at the bombing of 16th Street Church – on Sunday September 15 1963 at 10:22 am four African-American girls (Addie Mae Collins, 14, Carol Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14) were murdered in a racially motivated attack.
In 1968, the FBI had closed their investigation into the bombing without filing charges against any of their named suspects, Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss and Bobby Frank Cherry. The files were sealed by order of J. Edgar Hoover. Baxley had been a student at the University of Alabama when he heard about the bombing in 1963, and in 1977 recollected: “I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what.”
When Baxley took office he wrote the names of those girls on a small telephone calling card. In 2014, he told NPR why:
“I want to be reminded that before my term was over, I wanted to try to solve that case and do something about the people who killed the little girls. It took us a couple of years to really get on the trail of the right people. And when we finally got on the right group – Robert Chambliss and his group. He was the ringleader. He was responsible for 30 or 40 bombings over a two or three-decade period in Birmingham. His nickname was ‘Dynamite Bob’ and he was very proud of it. So then around about ’76, it got public that we were for the first time looking at that case and making some real progress.”
That’s when Edward R. Fields put pen to paper.
“Well, I took it as a threat,” said Baxley. “He called me a traitor to my race and how dare I prosecute or investigate these white Christian patriots and blah, blah, blah, blah. And so they demanded a response. So I sat down and wrote them a response.”
In 1977, Robert Chambliss was tried and convicted of the first degree murder of Carol Denise McNair. Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry were each convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001 and 2002 respectively, whereas Herman Cash, who died in 1994, was never charged with his alleged involvement in the bombing.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF ALABAMA
February 28, 1976
“Dr.” Edward R. Fields
National States Rights Party
P. O. Box 1211
Marietta, Georgia 30061
Dear “Dr.” Fields:
My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is – kiss my ass.
Via Letters of Note