An Alabama parole board Wednesday denied the last surviving Birmingham church bomber's first attempt to get out of prison.
Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., an 86-year-old Ku Klux Klansman serving a life sentence for the Sept. 15, 1963 bombing that killed four young black girls, won't be able to apply again for parole for another five years, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles said.
The parole board's decision was applauded by the busload of NAACP members who attended the hearing wearing yellow lanyards that read: "No Parole For Thomas Blanton."
"This is something that many of them thought that they wouldn't have to revisit again in their lifetime," local NAACP chief Hezekiah Jackson told WVTM-13, the NBC affiliate in Birmingham, before the hearing. "So this is now almost like opening old wounds."
Blanton was convicted in 2001 of murdering Denise McNair, 11, and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, by planting a bomb under a steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church. He has never accepted responsibility or expressed remorse for the killings.
The tragic deaths at the hands of white supremacist terrorists was a turning point in the battle for civil rights.
It paved the way for passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or gender — and abolished the Jim Crow laws that had enforced segregation across much of the South.
Just days after the bombing, the FBI identified Blanton and three other Klansmen — Robert Edward Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry and Herman Frank Cash — as the likely culprits. But the investigation quickly stalled.
It wasn't until 1977 that Chambliss — nicknamed "Dynamite Bob" — was convicted. He died in prison in 1985.
Cherry was convicted in 2002 and died behind bars two years later. Cash escaped justice when he died in 1994.