That Birmingham Trial and the Second Reconstruction: Power, not Justice

Is Thomas Blanton,
convicted last week of first-degree murder in the
infamous Birmingham church bombing of 1963, really
guilty? Who knows? So politicized have trials
involving racial issues become in this country—the
murder trial of O.J. Simpson is the archetype—that
jury verdicts mean almost nothing today. In the
Blanton case, even the chief prosecutor, U.S. attorney
Doug Jones, admitted that “this was not an
overwhelming case.”

Tried 37 years after the crime,
before a jury that contained not a single white male and
from which the prosecutors carefully excluded as many
whites as possible, Blanton was never once connected to
the actual crime. Usually in murder trials the
prosecutors try to show such a connection—two or more
witnesses, fingerprints, DNA, a confession, something
that, beyond a reasonable doubt, will convince the
jurors that the defendant is guilty. In the Blanton
trial there was none of the above.

No witness placed Blanton at the scene
of the bombing
on Sept. 15, 1963. No witness or
other evidence showed that he made or placed the bomb.
Instead, an old girl friend testified
that Blanton had boasted to her of the blacks he planned
to kill, and a barely audible FBI tape recording had
Blanton saying they`d never catch him “when I bomb
my next church.” Nobody doubts that Blanton, a Ku Klux
Klan member, hated black people, that he bragged of
hating them and bragged also about killing them and
wanting to kill them. But no one claimed either that he
ever admitted bombing this particular church or actually
killing anybody. In short, it appears that Thomas
Blanton was convicted of murder mainly because of what
he thinks and says.

Blanton`s defense
argued in his summation that “the case is
somehow linked with the image
of this city,” and no doubt the New South`s
obsessive rejection of its past played a role. So did
the zealotry of the Clinton administration, which
planned to bring the case to trial, and, not least, so
did the racial resentment that drives many blacks to
grind the entire past of the white South into the dirt.

“Somehow,” intoned Shelley
Stewart, a black Birmingham talk show host told The Washington

(April 29, 2001; Page A03), “African Americans here
have been persuaded—in my view out of fear—that you
get along with white people by forgetting. You must
forget slavery, you must forget sitting at the back of
the bus, you must forget segregation, you must forget
the Sixteenth Street Church bombing—and when you
forget all that, then we`ll get along.”

Disregarding Mr. Stewart`s
paranoid invocation of “fear,” what else do he and
his fellow black zealots demand of white Southerners but
that they forget their own heritage by removing
Confederate flags, statues, plaques and songs simply
because they are “offensive” to blacks? In the South
today, as in most of the rest of the nation, it is
whites, not blacks, who are forced to forget, deny,
distort, and denounce their own past and to celebrate
the mythologized past of others. And it is whites, not
blacks, who do so out of fear.

Whoever bombed the Sixteenth
Street Church committed an atrocity. He or they knew the
church would be filled and intended that men, women and
children die. But if the bombing was an act of homicidal
brutality, it was also an act of war, an act of
resistance to the concerted onslaught against the white
South launched by the civil rights movement, the federal
government (including the White House, the Justice
Department, the FBI and the federal judiciary), the
organized left, the mainstream churches, universities,
and the national media. You don`t have to be Thomas
Blanton or a Ku Kluxer to believe that the South had as
much moral and legal right to preserve its way of life
as any other society and culture, and if it did have
that right, then it had the right to resist the war that
the powers of the earth were waging against it.

The problem with that resistance
was that only people like Thomas Blanton were very
serious about it. Then as now, most white business and
political leaders sought a quick and easy settlement, so
their profits wouldn`t be hurt or their careers
disrupted. Only characters like Blanton, who seldom saw
profits and had no careers, fought back, and they fought
the only way and for the only reasons they could

What the Blanton trial shows is
not that justice has finally triumphed in the South but
that the South lost the war that some white Southerners
tried to fight. The trial and its outcome are important
symbols of who won and who lost the war and the power
that war determines, but let no one imagine that they
represent justice.


May 08,