Joe Songer  /  Birmingham News file
J.B. Stoner in 1999
updated 4/27/2005 12:37:25 PM ET 2005-04-27T16:37:25

J.B. Stoner, an unrepentant white supremacist and anti-Semite convicted in the civil rights-era bombing of a black church, has died. He was 81.

Stoner died Saturday at a nursing home of complications of pneumonia, said Judith Ragon, the wife of Stoner’s second cousin and legal guardian, Ronald Ragon.

A Georgia native, Stoner was one of the angriest voices in opposition to the civil rights movement. At age 18, he revived a dormant chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Chattanooga, Tenn. A few years later he headed the Stoner Christian Anti-Jewish Party.

Stoner was a suspect in the 1958 bombing of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., but he wasn’t indicted until 1977. The church was empty at the time of the bombing.

At his trial, he was convicted in part on the basis of venomous quotations he’d made at the time.

When asked if he made a hateful quotation found in an old newspaper clipping, Stoner replied, “I don’t think I said that, but I wish I had.” A mostly white jury found him guilty in 90 minutes.

But Stoner appealed the verdict and vanished for several months in 1983 when his appeals ran out. Stoner ultimately turned himself in and served 3½ years in prison before he was paroled in 1986.

Career fighting integration
It was the end of a long career fighting integration.

In 1964, Stoner arrived in St. Augustine, Fla., on the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. to organize a counter-demonstration. Stoner later became the appeals attorney for James Earl Ray, King’s assassin, and long tried to get his case reversed.

In 1970, Stoner ran unsuccessfully for Georgia governor in a race Jimmy Carter eventually won. In 1972, he ran for the U.S. Senate. In 1974, he drew 73,000 votes, almost 10 percent, in a race for lieutenant governor.

In at interview last year from his nursing home, Stoner — bedridden and partially paralyzed — remained unapologetic, saying, “a person isn’t supposed to apologize for being right.”

He never married, once telling an interviewer any woman “would be too dumb” for him.

Stoner was buried Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tenn. He is survived by two sisters.

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