Former Governor George Wallace is an invalid now . He has suffered for more than two decades since he was crippled by an attempt on his life while campaigning in Maryland for the US presidency in 1972. He is an honored guest at meetings of black mayors and has been “forgiven” his role as enabler of the violent and the vicious.
I, too, forgive him; yet I do not understand how we, as a people, can forgive ourselves for not asking the questions — and insisting on answers — about how much his terms in office contributed directly to the grief of the state through political posturing, allowing crimes to go unpunished, and financing and encouraging violence for votes.
Did George Wallace send Bob Eddy to Huntsville to serve out the term of Madison County’s deposed sheriff, effectively getting Eddy “out of the way” during 1978?
So far as I know, no one has ever asked what Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton was up to with Robert Chambliss the Saturday night, September 14, 1963, prior to the bombing. He was in Birmingham. Chambliss picked him up at the airport. When did he go back to Tuscaloosa? How much did he participate in or coordinate that night’s activities?
No one has answered why the head of the state police (Alabama Highway Patrol) Colonel Al Lingo met with Robert Shelton and other Klansmen at the St. Francis Motel just before Chambliss, John Hall, and Charles Cagle were arrested for the minor offense of illegal transportation and possession of dynamite on September 29, 1963, two weeks after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.
No one has asked why the chairman of the United Americans for Conservative Government was at that meeting.
No one has asked why Bob Gafford (who was later elected to the Alabama House of Representatives) was offering to help Edward Fields (National States Rights Party) get use of the National Guard Armory for a rally after Fields was released from jail in 1963; or why bombing suspect Bobby Cherry, after being questioned by Bob Eddy near Fort Worth, Texas, in 1977, made a call to Birmingham — to Bob Gafford.
No one has asked why, as attorney general, Charles Graddick fired Bob Eddy, who had rejoined the attorney general’s staff after completing his time as sheriff of Madison County, spurring Jon Yung to quit, thus breaking up the investigative team that was urging Graddick to prosecute other bombing suspects after J. B. Stoner was convicted.
No one has investigated J. B. Stoner’s bomb-making classes or dared to call the Birmingham bombings a “conspiracy” and charged others known to have participated.
No one has questioned why Floyd Garrett, a Birmingham police officer (out of uniform), was warning people on the morning of September 15, 1963, to keep their mouths shut about the bombing. Or why his alibi given to the FBI in 1963 was significantly different from his testimony in court — testimony that was rebutted — and yet he was not charged with either conspiracy or perjury.
Nor has there been an investigation into the deaths of at least two female informants, linking their demise to the roles they were playing.
No one has officially questioned how Troy Ingram died in his vehicle that day in 1976. Was he about to discuss the things that went on in his garage or at his house after the Cahaba River meetings of Klansmen in 1963?
Apparently no one suggested an extensive forensic examination of Ross Keith or John Wesley Hall, two Klansmen who became FBI and police informants after the bombing, both of whom died when Bob Eddy tried to get to them for questioning in 1977.
No one has questioned publicly a report from a man who was eating chili in Jack Cash’s restaurant, a Klan hangout, on Friday, September 13, 1963, and overheard Jack make a phone call and ask someone if they had the “case.” The informant reported that Jack told the someone on the phone to take it to the “church” in Powderly. (Klansmen called their meeting halls “churches.”) The number Jack is said to have called was FA2-9481, a service station on First Avenue South at Thirty-first Street, where Baggett Transfer trucks hauling dynamite were parked.
There are police reports that indicate that two and perhaps three carloads of white men were in the area of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in the wee hours of Sunday, September 15, 1963: the car that Robert was in, one carrying six members of the National States Rights Party, and another with at least two men who were said to be wearing police uniforms.
Which car actually had the bomb that was planted and timed to go off? Who were the two men in police uniforms, and whose uniforms were they?
Several witnesses saw two white men running between houses on Seventh Avenue North moments after the blast. One was limping. These men have never been identified. Had they been sent to retrieve or check on the bomb? Why did police officers testify at Robert’s trial that there were no white men in the area at the time of the bombing, and that nothing unusual took place?
The dynamite purchased from Leon Negron’s General Store in Daisy City by Robert Chambliss on September 4, 1963, was different from the case “found” by state investigators in the kudzu field near Gardendale, the case used as evidence when Chambliss, Hall, and Cagle were charged with illegal possession and transportation. The “found” case was placed in the field after September 28, when it had rained, but the original case has not been traced. Why has there been no grand jury investigation of those events? No charges of obstruction of justice, or tampering with evidence or creating evidence, or conspiracy?
Perhaps there will never be answers to these and the many other questions remaining in the Birmingham bombing cases, especially in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Perhaps it is sufficient simply to keep asking them, lest we forget that we all have an obligation to demand truth and candor from those we elect or appoint to serve and protect us as law enforcement officers and government officials.
From those to whom we have given authority, we must exact responsibility. For this is the essence of freedom, the very definition of democracy, and our only hope against oppression.