Lots of Questions and Very Few Answers

Former Governor George Wallace is an invalid now [1994]. 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.

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Home — But Not Home Free

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama. The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-highsm-05091

The next few days were to be some of the most difficult I’ve ever spent. A week or so before the trial began, I had spoken to Millie, one of the handful of friends I felt that I could trust, preparing her for a favor I might ask. Millie was a tall and portly woman-of-color from Boston studying for ministry in the Episcopal Church and a fellow student at Birmingham-Southern College. We had grown close through the past couple of years of classes, studying, discussions, and shared burgers.

“Millie, I may need a favor in a week or so,” I had told her.

“What is it. I’ll do you any favor I can,” she assured me.

“I’m possibly going to need a place to stay for a few days, and no one can know where I am — absolutely no one. Can I stay with you, if it is necessary?”

“Are you having marriage trouble?” she asked, her face registering concern.

“No, that’s not it, Millie. I can’t explain, so please don’t ask me for details. But if I need you, I’ll really need you, and you will understand then.”

She agreed, more readily than I would have expected, and the next day she gave me a key to her dorm room.

After my testimony Bob Eddy and I had coffee, and then I drove directly to the college campus. Bob followed in another car. On the way the music on the car radio was interrupted by a recording of part of my testimony, and the announcer said, “This voice made history today,” plugging the upcoming news broadcast.

Millie was asleep when I arrived. I told her who Bob was, and he checked the room and left me there. Caught off guard, Millie fretted as I explained what had happened, and we started a vigil of watching every news broadcast on a small black-and-white television and reading both morning and evening newspapers. She brought food back to me from the cafeteria and picked up newspapers, checking in between classes.

I had been given the option of staying in a motel, but I was glad not to be alone. I was also glad not to be at home with the telephone and doorbell.

The house monitors did not know that I was in Millie’s room. The room had two twin beds, but she did not have a roommate. The bath, however, was shared with the adjacent room, so we kept the connecting door closed and locked.

Only two people figured out on their own where I was: Jesse and Andrea, a mixed-race couple who were friends of Millie’s and mine. They had heard the news broadcast of my voice and then noticed Millie buying cheeseburgers. Millie had perpetual money problems, going to college on far fewer resources than she needed. She was often quite inventive in meeting her food needs, usually filling up on the peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches the cafeteria kept available. When Jesse and Andrea saw Millie buying food and leaving the cafeteria with it, they put two and two together.

They knocked on the door and called softly, “It’s Jesse and Andrea. It’s OK, nobody saw us come up.” Millie looked at me and I nodded. We let them in and the four of us sat around for hours talking and getting nerves settled.

From television and newspapers we learned much of what had happened in the courtroom. The first witness Tuesday was J. O. Butler, Sr., who was coroner in Jefferson County in 1963. He testified to the nature of the injuries sustained by the four victims of the bombing. After Butler, W. L. Allen, a deputy in the coroner’s office, was called. Art Hanes, Jr., objected strenuously against admitting reports from the coroner’s office into evidence. On the death certificates of each of the four girls, the cause of the injuries was shown as “dynamite blast,” and two of them added the word “bomb.”

Judge Gibson took out his pocket knife and cut each document, taking out the words “dynamite blast” and “dynamite blast-bomb.”  He apologized to the jury that the holes were asymmetrical. The death certificates were admitted into evidence and passed to the jury with holes where the “conclusionary statements” of the coroners had been.

Denise McNair’s father, Christopher McNair, took the stand next and described that last day of his daughter’s life.

Having established the crime and the nature of the crime, the prosecution changed to a different type of testimony.

Tom Cook, retired by 1977, had been a Birmingham policeman for more than 30 years. Cook’s name came up several times in investigation reports (including statements by Tommy Rowe), raising suspicion that he furnished police intelligence to the Ku Klux Klan, aiding the Klan’s cause. On the stand, he testified about a conversation he had with Robert Chambliss about the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in December 1975, wherein Chambliss said, “Well, you know I got arrested for having that dynamite” and that he had given “that dynamite to Rowe and them.”

After the lunch break, Birmingham Police Sergeant Ernie Cantrell took the stand and described a time in November 1976 when Robert Chambliss came to police headquarters and talked to Cantrell, Captain Jack LeGrand, and Captain Bill Myers. That time Chambliss had come to cast blame on Don Luna. Former Klan investigator Luna had just been arrested for securities irregularities. Luna had given both the state and FBI agents information, and he was with the state officer when Robert Chambliss was arrested on September 29, 1963. Attorney General Bill Baxley said they were showing that Robert was accusing his enemies to police whenever it looked as though someone were talking too much.

Cantrell also testified that during the conversation in November 1976, Robert had told him and the other officers that “a fellow” had told him how to make a “drip-method bomb” using “a fishing bobber, and a bucket full of water with a hole in it.” Then Cantrell told the court that Robert said, “If I had bombed the church, I would have put enough stuff there to flatten the damn thing.”

When I was called, I had no idea what had gone before I came in, but it was little wonder that Mr. Hanes tore into my testimony on the word “stuff.”

Bob Eddy had led me out of the courtroom, and we were well out of the building when Bill Baxley called William “Billy” Jackson, a former Klansman, to the stand. He told of being with Robert and Tommy Blanton, Jr., at the Modern Sign Company downtown the night before the bombing. The group was using the sign shop’s equipment to make Confederate flags and protest signs. He also told of going to Robert’s home to join the Ku Klux Klan and attending a meeting on the Cahaba River. His testimony differed from earlier statements to police and FBI, however, in that he said these meetings were before the bombing rather than after.

The last witness called on Tuesday was Gertrude Glenn from Detroit, Michigan. Mrs. Glenn had been visiting friends who lived at 1521 Seventh Avenue North behind the church on the weekend the church was bombed. She and her friend’s son were returning to that house about 2 a.m. that Sunday and saw a two-toned 1957 Chevrolet parked at the curb near there with the inside light on. Shortly after the bombing she had identified Robert Chambliss from photos as being one of the men in that car, and she selected a photo of Tommy Blanton, ]r.’s, car.

Art Hanes’s objections to her testimony brought up legal arguments causing court to adjourn midway through and resume the next day. When I heard this, I felt so sorry for her having to go back the next morning. I had known about her since 1963, of course, having been told of her eyewitness account by FBI agents.

Wednesday morning court resumed a little after 8 am, and evidence was taken on voir dire for over two hours. The jury was finally brought in after 10:30 that morning, and Gertrude Glenn was questioned on both direct and cross at great length about the car she had seen and the men in it.

When she was excused, FBI special agent Tim Casey, who was one of the first agents on the case back in 1963, was called. He verified the photos of Tommy Blanton’s car that Gertrude Glenn had identified.

Next to take the stand was Yvonne Young, a woman who told about going to Tee and Robert’s house with Ross Keith (one of Robert’s buddies in both Eastview Klavern 13 and the Cahaba Boys, and an FBI informant who died before Bob Eddy could question him), two weeks before the bombing. Trying to find the bathroom, Young had opened a wrong door and seen several bundles of “oversized firecrackers” the color of masking tape lying on the floor. She described how Robert started “cussing” and “scolding” her for going into the wrong room.

After lunch, former fire marshal Aaron Rosenfeld was called for more expert testimony on the use of dynamite in the blast at the church, and Sergeant Cantrell was recalled. Cantrell was questioned more about the drip-method bomb Robert had talked about in 1976 and about his patrol duty and other police cars around the church through the night of September 14 and morning of the 15th.

Following Cantrell was FBI agent John McCormick, who had been in Birmingham for about a week before the Sunday morning bombing. He said that he reacted to the odor of dynamite with a headache and had gotten one investigating the scene. He further told about being present when another agent found the much-talked-about, little-seen fishing bobber in the street.

When I heard the television announcer say that the prosecution had rested its case and the defense portion of the trial would begin that same day, I was stunned. Was that all they had? I had expected it to take the rest of the week. The defense would drag on forever, right?

Art Hanes, Jr., had reserved the right to recall me, and I feared he might do just that. Surely Art Hanes, Sr., former mayor of Birmingham, former FBI agent, allegedly a former Klansman, would leave no stone unturned.

The defense led off with three Birmingham policemen. Billy Webb and Paul Hurst had been in the special patrol car on the 11 pm to 7 am shift, and both testified that nothing unusual had happened. No white men were in the area. The third police officer was Robert Chambliss’s nephew, Floyd C. Garrett, whose testimony was quite different from statements made to the FBI in 1963, except that he said he had gone to borrow a shotgun from his uncle on his way to work.

On cross-examination, Jon Yung quizzed him about telling his supervisor, Maurice House, that he had gone because he was suspicious that Robert was involved and wanted to see if he were at home. Garrett denied that.

Then the defense brought out nine character witnesses before court was adjourned for the day. All of them were asked on cross-examination if they had heard of the various times Robert had been arrested for violence and about his Ku Klux Klan activities. None of them admitted to knowledge of these things in forming their good opinion of Robert’s character.

Wednesday evening, Millie and I huddled in her little dorm room. I was disturbed that the trial was going so fast. To me, the prosecution’s case against Robert seemed weak and disjointed.

Thursday morning Robert’s sister, Bennie Mae Brown, took the stand to say she had gone to Robert’s house soon after the explosion looking for his neighbor, Clarence Dill, and found the two of them playing dominoes.

Next came a man named Edward Walker, an automobile salesman  who testified that DeSoto automobiles were not made after 1961. Gertrude Glenn had said she was driving a 1962 model; supposedly Walker’s testimony was to refute her identification of the Blanton car.

Then the defense rested. Robert Chambliss had surprised his attorneys by refusing to take the stand in his own defense.

There was one rebuttal witness for the state. Birmingham Police Captain Maurice House testified that Floyd Garrett had told him and Detective V. T. Hart that the reason for going to Chambliss’s house that morning was because he (Garrett) was suspicious that Robert had done the bombing.

After final arguments, the jury received the case at 4:09 p.m., Thursday, November 17, 1977.

Bob Eddy and Jon Yung had called me several times since my testimony in court to make sure I was all right and to see if I needed anything. When Bob called Thursday evening, there was no enthusiasm in his voice. He sounded tired and we questioned how long the jury would deliberate.

“Nothing to do now but wait,” he said.

But the telephone in the hallway rang Friday morning a little after 11. Jon Yung’s voice said, “It’s over. We won.” He told me to wait an hour before going home so that he could have the city police meet me and check the house and the church before I went in.

Millie and I hugged as I left. We were both in tears. A police car was waiting at the parsonage. I gave them my keys, waiting outside until they had checked the house and found it secure. Jesse and Andrea stayed with me during the afternoon, fielding calls and stopping people at the door.

A woman in my church congregation came with food and visited for a short while. I learned later that she thought Jesse and Andrea were police officers there to protect me, but the only police courtesy I received was when they had checked the house and church for bombs at Jon Yung’s direction.

The district superintendent of the Birmingham east district of the United Methodist Church, Dr. Montgomery, called to determine if I was all right and to commend me for courage. The Bishop, Carl Sanders, called also, and after a few comments, he asked whether I would have testified if the death penalty had been a possibility. I had to tell him that I had struggled with the same question but had no answer. I do not believe in a death penalty, and in 1963, when the church was bombed, the death penalty had previously been ruled unconstitutional. That ruling was subsequently overturned, however, so that by 1977 it had been reinstated and Alabama had again hooked up “Yellow Mama,” as the electric chair is euphemistically known.

I received letters from church people and citizens. I received a call from Mary, the church secretary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

And I received threats.

As it turned out, there would be no further indictments in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing case. Extradition of J. B. Stoner from Georgia for bombing the Bethel Baptist Church in 1958 was in process, but no charges were lodged against him in the 1963 bombing. Only one man was convicted for the crimes of many in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing case.

Bill Baxley was running for governor in 1978. He lost despite, or perhaps because of, his efforts to solve civil rights era crimes. Governor George Wallace sent Bob Eddy to Huntsville to serve the remainder of the term of Madison County’s deposed sheriff

Charlie Graddick was elected attorney general in 1978 and refused to pursue prosecution of the other men in the car that Saturday night in 1963: the one who got out and placed the bomb and set the crude timer, the young man who drove the car, and others who knew and helped. Graddick said the case was “too political,” so he put it aside.

It had been hoped that once convicted, Robert would implicate the others. He said there was a “kiss of death” on Tee if he ever talked, and he must have firmly believed in this because he died in 1985, never having admitted to the bombing nor naming any accomplices. However, he did write letters accusing other Klansmen, his nephew Floyd Garrett, and Tommy Rowe.

In his letters and interviews with Ernie Cantrell and Jack LeGrand and district attorney David Barbour while in prison, Robert contended that there had been a CIA plot to frame him. He also accused his attorneys, Arthur Hanes, Jr., and Sr., of framing him — “just like they did James Earl Ray.” I’ve been told that he often threatened me from his cell.

Robert had very few visitors, and after a time his threats and attempts to intimidate caused even the few who still did to stop going to see him, especially after Tee died in 1980.

During the weeks just after Robert’s trial I tried to resume a normal life, so I agreed to only one interview. Bill Baxley and I were taped in the living room of the parsonage for ABC’s Good Morning America. I agreed because the show did not air in Birmingham at that time.

About that same time a Reader’s Digest writer came to see me. I did not give him material that he could use in his article, so he wrote his story using other sources.

I stayed in Birmingham just over a year after the trial. My second marriage had never had a secure foundation, and after the stress and publicity of the Chambliss case, it crumbled. The spring after the trial my husband divorced me. In June, I left the Methodist Church; feeling that my congregation (and I) had endured enough, I asked for a leave of absence. I moved several times and had my unlisted telephone number changed several times, but the harassment never stopped. Someone stood outside my bedroom window and lined up bullets on the windowsill. Someone broke into my car and left a hunting knife in the driver’s seat. My telephone rang at odd hours of the night — every night. Some callers were heavy breathers, most were threats, and some only said, “We know where you are.”

I could not get a job in Birmingham; I was told repeatedly that people were afraid to hire me. I pastored a small independent church for a few months for $50 a week and housing and then worked as a security guard for several months.

I left Birmingham the first week of January 1979 under an assumed name, with one friend and all my possessions packed in a subcompact car, having sold or given away virtually everything I owned. I had no destination in mind except somewhere out of Alabama.

During the years I was gone, I was located several times even though I had changed my name and my appearance. I wasn’t always sure just who had found me, but when it was a threat, I assumed it to be the Klan. Yet when three men wearing business suits in a nondescript car take your picture through the car window, you assume it to be the FBI and wave.

In 1980, during one of my many moves, I lost contact with my son. lt would be four years before we re-established communication. For that purpose I had quietly slipped back into Birmingham a couple of times. Then in winter 1985, a month after Robert died, I moved back to Birmingham. Only a few people knew who I once was.

Having been censured by my immediate family after the trial and  further as my life changed, I did not feel free to reestablish contact with other relatives. I also feared that such associations would make me easier to locate for those who might still want to silence me. I had been warned (in writing in 1980) that should I try to make contact with any family members,I would be killed. So instead of taking up my old identity, initially I formed new friendships and pursued new activities. For several years I earned my living in an antiques restoration business.

During that time, I granted the only newspaper interview I have given in all these years. Kathy Kemp of the Birmingham Post-Herald reached me through a mutual acquaintance, and after meeting her, I agreed. She was kind enough and professional enough to guard my location and appearance at that time. That interview was published in October 1988.

I was not paid for either of the interviews I gave. I was never on the FBI payroll and received no money from them, nor have I ever received any reward money for my testimony or for cooperation with the State of Alabama’s investigation. The State of Alabama has no witness protection program, so changing my name and appearance and all relocations were at my own expense and by my own efforts.

I readily admit that a year after I moved back to Birmingham in poor health and with poor prospects, I contacted a secretary in Bill Baxley’s law office. There were no longer funds available, which I felt sure would be the case before I called. I did not speak with Bill Baxley himself.

Birmingham changed a great deal too between 1963 and 1977. J. Edgar Hoover had said that it was impossible to get a conviction during the Sixties. He might have been right. When I came back to Birmingham in November 1985, I found a city that had changed even more. But I still found an atmosphere of prejudice and fear.

Birmingham has now outgrown its nickname “Bombingham.” Its current city government reflects its racial makeup with some very talented and dedicated individuals.

Yet it is still a city prone to violent division. It is still a city that does not take a stand for tolerance and mutual respect among its citizens. And, unfortunately, its understanding of “human rights” seems to still be locked in the dichotomy of black/white and has not been opened to embrace all people.

Those who were children in 1963 are adults now and have raised another generation, still divided by race, religion, class, age, lifestyle, and neighborhood.

Had they lived, Denise, Carole, Addie, and Cynthia might have told us that hate and fear are sides of the same coin. Freedom begins by breaking free — free from fear, without hate, able to embrace all who are different because they are human, and therefore precious.

I toured the new Birmingham Civil Rights Institute shortly after it opened in 1992, and on the street outside I embraced a friend — a black businesswoman — and we agreed that Birmingham has come a long way. But we all still have a long way to go.

Day in Court

All that was left was to determine when — the day and hour — I was to appear in court to testify. It was not a matter of going to the courthouse to sit around waiting to be called forth from the spectators or a witness room as it’s done on television. Nothing that simple.

I waited and tried to behave normally on Monday. I knew that a string of technical witnesses would be called first. This was the nuts-and-bolts of establishing that a crime had, in fact, been committed. The cause of the death of Denise McNair would be established by coroner’s reports, by those who had investigated the scene, and by people who were there when the blast occurred. Police and fire department witnesses would establish that an explosion had taken place and that it had been caused by dynamite. Defense attorney Art Hanes had won the point on barring the use of the word “bomb” in describing the explosion.

No one could say how long all of this would take, so I was simply on standby until I was needed. Yet I couldn’t be there in the courthouse. There could be no questions or speculation; better that no attention was drawn to me. And I think my showing up at the last minute ensured that my story would already have been told before I could be intimidated by the cross-examination skills of defense attorney Art Hanes, Jr., or the process of the trial itself.

Monday evening I read the afternoon newspaper and watched stories about the first day of trial on the television news. During the early evening, I received a telephone call telling me that they should be getting to me on Tuesday, so I should stay home and be prepared to come downtown when I was notified.

Tuesday morning, November 15, 1977, I read the morning newspaper, the Birmingham Post-Herald, which carried several stories about the trial. The first witness called had been the Reverend John H. Cross who had been pastor of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in September 1963. He told about that morning. The Sunday School lesson was on “the love that forgives,” he said. He had been teaching the women’s Bible class in the sanctuary of the church when “all of a sudden an explosion went off. It sounded like the whole world was shaking, and the building, I thought, was going to collapse.”

Then Sarah Collins Riley, the younger sister of Addie Mae Collins, testified. Sarah had been the fifth child in the ladies’ lounge that morning, and she described the scene and told the court that she lost an eye in the explosion.

Captain William Berry, Assistant Fire Marshal, testified about the explosion itself from the evidence on the scene. After Captain Berry came Dr. Joe Donald, who was the chief resident in surgery at the University Hospital, which in 1963 was the old Hillman Clinic.

Early Tuesday morning, November 15, Bob Eddy called making sure I was available.

“Should I come down there? Will you pick me up, or what?” I asked.

“Stay there. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll call you back and allow time to get you here. Just sit tight.”

“OK.”

“Are you all right?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ll be fine. I know you will. It’ll all be over soon. Just hang on.”

We hung up. I remember puttering about the house putting things in order.

I remember sitting and just looking at the telephone. I remember that it rang a couple of times with other calls. I would hurry each time to get off the line as quickly as possible.

When Jon Yung and George Beck had passed the word to me that it was definite I would be called to testify, I told them that I would on one condition.

There was visible tensing against what I might demand. This was one of the few times I saw George Beck prior to the trial. He was in town, and he, Jon Yung, and Bob Eddy met with me that day.

“The only way I can walk in there is if Bob is with me every step of the way,” I told them.

“I’ll be there,” Bob Eddy had responded quietly.

“I mean actually with me. And stay with me, in and out,” I was emphatic.

“You got it! I won’t let go,” Bob grinned as he made that promise. He knew that I meant for him to act as bodyguard. He knew I meant for him to physically take the risk with me. And he agreed. I almost felt vindicated in my initial decision to trust him. Had it truly been only three months that I had known him?

The call to come to the courthouse that Tuesday morning came much earlier than I had expected, although I had been dressed and waiting for several hours. I left the parsonage immediately and drove east into downtown. I passed the courthouse on Twenty-first Street and proceeded another block on Eighth Avenue to Twenty-second Street, then turned right onto one-way Twenty-second beside the 2121 Building, as I had been instructed to do. As I eased my way slowly along the line of cars parked at meters, I saw Bob. He was waiting on the sidewalk by an empty parking space. I parked my car at the curb, and Bob put coins in the meter. He then led me to another car, and I got into the back seat.

The drive to the courthouse was short, but it seemed to take forever. The driver went around an extra block or two and Bob sat sideways in the front passenger seat scanning behind the car and to the sides. The precautions seemed elaborate, yet there was a long list of murders and unexplained deaths leading up to this day. As we rode, it seemed to sink in for the first time that these men were doing a job. A duty. Whatever deeper motivations there might have been, no matter how honorable, they were there because it was how they earned their paycheck. That was not a comforting thought. I forced those thoughts down and consciously reaffirmed my decision to trust and my resolve to do this thing. It had been so long, and now the hour had come.

Soon the driver swung the car onto Twenty-first Street heading toward the Jefferson County Courthouse. He turned left off the one way street into a driveway that led us under the tall old impressive front steps of the courthouse to a basement entrance near the loading docks. Bob and I got out and entered the building, taking an elevator upstairs. Getting off the elevator into a deserted hallway, he led me to an empty room and showed me where I might sit to wait. Then he left me alone, with instructions to stay there until he came for me. I waited for more than a half hour, sitting, standing, pacing, and wanting a cigarette. I wandered around in an empty courtroom alone. At one point a stranger opened the door and then went away when I said I was waiting for someone.

At last Bob came back. “They are waiting for you,” he said as he took my hand and led me back into the corridor and then onto the elevator again. When the elevator doors opened, the quiet of the building gave way to a din coming from the hallway. The elevator lobby of each floor in the building forms a T with a long hallway that runs the length of the building north and south, so I could not see the source of the noise until we rounded the corner.

The trial was taking place in Courtroom 306, at the end of the hallway. There was a crowd of reporters, along with camera personnel, lights and wires and microphones. There was a cordon of uniformed officers down each side of the hallway leading to a standing metal detector at the doorway into the courtroom itself. Bob led me down this guarded path wordlessly until we reached the officer manning the metal detector.

“You can’t go in. The court has been sealed,” the officer ordered.

“They are waiting for us,” Bob told him.

“The courtroom has been sealed. I can’t let anybody in. It’s for security.”

“This is the witness it was sealed for, you idiot! Now let us pass through,” Bob growled inches from the man’s face so he would not be overheard by the crowd behind us. He still had hold of my hand, and I think I was trying to hide behind him.

The deputy flushed and stepped inside, to reappear in seconds. He verified my name and muttered an apology. Meanwhile, the news reporters who were being held back several feet behind us were demanding to know, “Who is that? What’s happening?”

As the door opened, every eye in the room seemed to be glued to it. Apparently it had not been announced who was being called as the next witness. I was told that the media and the spectators as well as the defense team expected Tommy Rowe, and defense attorney Art Hanes, Jr., was prepared for him.

There was an almost absolute quiet that was unnerving after the din in the hallway. The quiet gave way to a murmur and then a buzz of whispers. I focused on Bob’s back and the witness chair ahead as he led me toward it. As we approached the table where the prosecution attorneys were seated, Attorney General Bill Baxley stood up and formally called me to the stand. I saw Art Hanes, Jr., and his father, the city’s former mayor, lean in toward Robert. And I saw Robert’s face set in anger as he shook his head from side to side.

When I had been sworn in and seated, I looked out over the crowd assembled in the room and instantly recognized several faces. Courtroom 306 is a very large room with a main floor and a balcony, and it was packed. The jury was to my right; the judge, the Honorable Wallace C. Gibson, to my left. The prosecution attorneys were directly in front of me, and the defense was in front of the judge’s bench.

Each time I would glance toward my left, I saw Robert staring at me as though his stern anger would enable him to intimidate me into silence as it had so many times for so many years. I found that if I leaned just a little to the left and did not sit up perfectly straight, the corner of the judge’s bench blocked my view of his face. I believe that was what enabled me to maintain control enough to accomplish what I had come to do.

Jon Yung conducted the questioning, and it went smoothly enough. Even with an occasional objection from Art Hanes, Jr., I was able to remain composed and deliberate.

I responded to Jon Yung’s questions as to my name, residence, occupation, and whether I was related to the defendant. He then moved on to ask whether I remembered the September 15, 1963, bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Art Hanes, Jr., objected to Yung’s using the word “bombing.” The wording of the question was changed to “explosion,” and the questions continued.

When asked about my visit to the Chambliss house on Saturday morning before the Sunday bombing, I told the court that there had been an incident the evening before that I brought to Robert’s attention. The newspaper article reported that a white girl had been stabbed through a bus window and that Bob Gafford had offered a hundred dollar reward. Art Hanes, Jr., again objected. The judge and the attorneys talked back and forth, and finally the judge sent the jury out of the courtroom. For the next 15 or 20 minutes, I testified about the angry and harsh statements Robert had made. This is called “voir dire evidence,” when the judge determines whether the jury should hear the testimony.

Judge Gibson interrupted to tell me that I should repeat the language Robert had used. He said, “I am not trying to embarrass the witness, but I think the language — I mean, sometimes we can’t deal in niceties, and I think this is one of those times.”

I told the court that he had said that if his “buddies” had backed him up, he would have “had the ‘niggers’ in their place by now” and that he had been “fighting a one-man war since 1942.” When I was answering questions about Robert’s demeanor, Hanes objected again, and the judge instructed me that I could say he “appeared to be angry” but I couldn’t say that he “was angry.” Then Hanes argued that none of this should be heard by the jury, and Yung argued that it should. They cited cases and precedents until at last the jury was brought back in, and I had to repeat that portion of my testimony for them.

Also, I told the court that Robert had told me he had “enough ‘stuff’ put away to flatten half of Birmingham” and that “the FBI or police could pick him up and search all they wanted to but they wouldn’t find it unless he pointed it out to them.”

I told the court that he had warned, “Just wait until after Sunday morning, and they’ll beg us to let them segregate!”

I told the court that the Saturday evening after the explosion at the church, I had sat in the room while Robert watched a news broadcast during which Robert had said, “It wasn’t meant to hurt anybody; it didn’t go off when it was supposed to” when the announcer said that murder charges might be lodged against the bombers.

At length Jon Yung finished direct questioning and handed me off to the defense for cross-examination. Robert had written something on a legal pad while I testified, and Art Hanes, Jr., referred to it as he got to his feet. I noticed that Robert continued to write on that yellow pad.

After a few easy questions reminding everyone in the courtroom that George Wallace, too, had said he was fighting to save segregation, Hanes started with the hard questions. He picked at my testimony, trying to discredit and confuse me, which is, after all, what cross-examination is all about.

He questioned such things as the use of the word “stuff,” asking had I seen any “stuff.” He seemed to think something was refuted by my not defining what was meant when I said Chambliss had used the word “stuff” to describe what he had that would “flatten half of Birmingham. ” He argued that the words I had repeated from Chambliss were angry words used by many white men in the Sixties. He referred to the use of “nigger” in Robert’s remarks which I had testified to, saying that was common in those days.

Then he asked whether these things happened before or after I divorced my first husband. The way the question was worded, however, showed he intended it as a slur on my character. It was the tone of voice and the grin on his face that indicated his meaning. I swallowed a little flare of anger as I answered; simultaneously Baxley objected to the question and his objection was sustained.

Then Hanes attacked my memory of those conversations. After 14 years, he ridiculed, the court was expected to believe that I remembered so perfectly what had been said. He pulled a couple of dates at random and asked me what I had been doing on those dates. Now this was where it almost got funny; nerves can easily spill over into hysteria, so I struggled a bit to maintain composure. It happened that he named dates that were on or near significant events or routines so that I actually did recall something of what I was doing and answered him accordingly.

After several of these, he named a date that meant nothing to me, and as I started to get angry at this treatment, the prosecution again objected. Again, the objection was sustained. Art Hanes, Jr., soon ended his cross-examination, reserving the right to recall me to the stand.

Before I was allowed to step down, I was questioned again about my memory of those statements of Robert’s, and I said that it was “a weekend that I shall never forget.”

“No further questions, your Honor,” I finally heard them say after I’d been handed back and forth for questioning nine times —  five by the prosecution and four by the defense.

“The witness may step down,” Judge Gibson dismissed me, instructing the prosecution to keep me available. As I stood up, my legs were weak and my hands were cold, but Bob Eddy was right there. He had stayed nearby throughout the time I had been on the witness stand. It was nearing 2:30 p.m.

Bob took my arm and led me back along that aisle and out through that cordon of uniforms in the hallway. I kept my eyes down watching the floor until we were out and clear of the crowd. I think I was worried  I might stumble and fall I was so shaky. I saw my Uncle Howard trying to get to me in the hallway, but we did not stop.

Bob took me toward the elevators and then changed his mind, and we went down the stairs. Not to the basement to be taken away by car, as I expected; instead we left the stairwell on the first floor and calmly walked out through the front doors of the courthouse. Breathing deeply the crisp November air, I walked with him across the wide plaza between the heavy sets of brass doors to the steps and down to the sidewalk.

We crossed Twenty-first Street just as though we had been in the building to buy an automobile tag or business license, and walked down the alley behind the 2121 Building to Twenty-second Street toward where my car was parked. But first Bob took me to a coffee shop at a nearby motel. When I had regained my calm and we had established which route I was to take, he put me into my car and followed me to the refuge that I had prearranged for my seclusion until the trial was over and the verdict was in.

Robert Chambliss was free on bond. He was going home every night after the court recessed. In court, he scowled, he glowered, and (I learned later) he scribbled on his yellow legal pad: “Art Hanes, Tommy Rowe, Libby Cobbs . . . ” over and over.

No Turning Back

Bill Baxley called the grand jury back into session in September 1977, and on September 26,  indictments were returned against Robert Chambliss for four counts of murder resulting from the dynamite explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. He was arrested at his home that same afternoon by a deputy sheriff. Bob Eddy went with the deputy and waited while Chambliss changed his clothes and sat for Tee to comb his hair. Subsequently bond was set at $200,000.

I had hoped that Robert would remain in jail until the trial, but friends and family members managed to raise the money to post bond after about ten days. Once the wheels were in motion and Robert knew that he would be tried, the danger was great.

I do not know how Robert learned that I might speak against him. That question has never been answered. The only possibility I have been able to discover is that either Ernie Cantrell or Jack LeGrand let it be known that I had spoken to Bob Eddy rather than the grand jury. Perhaps Robert’s attorneys noted my name on the grand jury witness list. However he found out, I learned that he threatened to make a phone call and have me killed and my church bombed.

I took his threats against me and my church seriously. Yet I continued to conceal my cooperation and my intention to testify, if needed.

Late in October, I was told that a trial date had been set: November 14. From that point on, there was a sense of urgency about every meeting with the men who worked for the attorney general of the State of Alabama. Each meeting was gravely serious, and I would be asked the same questions a dozen different ways, as well as new ones. I was also given occasional tidbits of information about the other evidence to be presented and other witnesses. There was also mention of other investigations that were expected to become of primary focus when the trial of Robert Chambliss was over.

It had become pretty well established that my personal knowledge and observations, those to which I could give direct testimony, would be useful in this case but probably not in the other cases. Yet it was crucial that those others be pursued because those were the men who would feel threatened and vengeful enough to cause me and other innocent people harm after the Chambliss trial was completed and the information was public.

I started to feel like a fish on a hook. They wanted to hang on and play me until all were safely in the boat, but then what: Would I be thrown out wounded to fend for myself? Would I wind up fried and served up on a platter?

I had one last meeting with Jon Yung just days before the trial was scheduled to begin; all contact after that would be by telephone. I went to the motel near the civic center where we had met several times before. He was in a first-floor room visible from the parking lot. I parked some fifty feet or so from the door and walked to the room; I had learned not to park by the room I was going to. That way, if someone recognized my car, they might not figure out which room I was in. Then I had to be careful and not be noticed going in or out.

Jon was in his shirt sleeves, but he did have on his tie; his suit jacket was on a chair near the dresser. The rooms were always neat where we met. Except for papers and files, tape recorders occasionally, cameras, and other equipment, there was little sign that the men occupied the space. There was usually a coffeepot or some sort of soda available.

I knew that Bob Eddy had been away from home for months, except for an occasional day or two. I assumed the same was true for Jon Yung. Both of them were looking tired and often seemed harassed and worried.

I sat in a chair near the door facing into the room with my back toward the window. The drapes were closed. Jon sat down occasionally on the corner of the bed or on the dresser, but mostly he paced about.

I recall that I was chilled. I recall my muscles being very tight and painful trying to avoid trembling. I do not remember that it was particularly cold, though, just the usual early November nip in the air.

It was definite now; the only things that would make it unnecessary for me to testify would be either a confession—which was not likely—or the death of one of us: Robert or me. As the trial date approached, it became more and more real. For all those years it had been a hope, a dread, a fear. Now it was a scheduled event. It felt somewhat like preparing for surgery. You have to be there, but you have absolutely no control over the outcome.

Of course I was nervous. Of course I was afraid. It seemed that we had covered everything there was to cover and the afternoon meeting had turned into early evening. As I started to get up, preparing to leave, Jon stepped in front of me. He had a large envelope in his hand. “Are you ready for these?” he asked, as he handed me the contents of the envelope.

I took the eight-by-ten sheets of heavy paper, and although I do not know what I did expect, I looked at something that was totally unexpected. At first it was hard to focus and understand what was in the black-and-white overexposed glossy photograph at the top of the stack. As my eyes adjusted, the details started to emerge: walls, cabinets, instruments, a gurney with a wadded sheet and — these were the morgue shots of the victims of the bombing. Perhaps there were a dozen prints. Different angles. A few of them included more than one of the victims.

I forced myself to look at the photos, one by one. Each one became more blurred by my tears. These horridly cold, brutally clinical photos of once beautiful, once alive and whole children, were burning into me trying to erase the picture of the four children I had carried in my mind for 14 years.

File:16th Street Baptist Church bombing girls.jpg

Chambliss’s victims, clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair).

I had been able to close my eyes and see the smiling faces from photographs that became so well-known after their deaths. The photos used in a plaque mounted in the sanctuary on a wall near the church altar. Those smiling faces had protected me from the other pictures I had in my mind all those years of the scenes we had watched on television of the shrouded bodies being brought—one by one—from the rubble that had been their church.

I had wept the morning they had died. I had wanted Robert to bear the public shame of his acts all those years and had tried in every way I had known to help bring that about, but this — this was — oh, God, the facts. I looked at the pictures, tears welling into my eyes and running down my cheeks. I handed them back to Jon. He didn’t speak, but he watched me and waited.

“I’m ready,” I told him, and I left the room. I managed to get into my car and start the engine before my control broke. I could no longer contain the flood of emotion. This was not simple grief, this was not just shock, this was not limited to anger. This was years of pent-up rage and pain.

I can remember to this day, as I write 17 years later, how the streets looked as I drove home in the darkness, the lights blindingly bright as they were refracted through my tears. I can hear in my ears that voice that was my own — screaming, keening, and crying out to God in sorrow, in rage; railing at the injustice, the cruelty, and at the guilt of impotence: to have not known what to do when it might have made a difference.

Memory can be a blessed tool or it can be a crippling burden. In work and in school my ability to recall detail and even verbatim conversations had been valuable to me. And though I had spent several years pushing the memories of the Sixties into a contained place so that I could live and be productive, they flooded back. Vivid, detailed, and absolute.

When I arrived home, I was drained. Perhaps I felt purged. I think that I thought the release of those emotions would strengthen me and that the coming days would provide healing of the wounds, for myself and for others.

I still could not discuss the case with other people, and all I wanted to do was to shout in accusation at a city, a system, a people who could allow — not just allow — but also accept such atrocities.

I wanted to tear it up and put it back together right. I used the weekend to pull myself together. I conducted the regular worship service in my church on Sunday, quietly prepared my son for the inevitable, and slept little.

The trial began on Monday morning; Robert Chambliss would stand trial for one count of murder. They would try him on only one count, explaining that, “If something goes wrong on this, we’ll immediately arrest him on another count.” The victim named in the charge was 11-year-old Denise McNair.

Savannah

Even though as a result of the hypnosis session, I had satisfied my own mind and assured myself I’d given accurate information to Bob Eddy and Jon Yung, the questions raised by the FBI files and Mel Alexander’s reports were of some trouble to the investigative team. It had not been established that I would, in fact, be called upon to testify; or rather, I had not been told as a certainty. And if I were to take the stand against Robert Chambliss, would the testimony include only the information Robert himself had given me or was there an “eyewitness” account to be had? More to the point: was I being totally honest?

Bob Eddy asked if I would take a polygraph test. My first thought was that any polygrapher accepted as an expert in Birmingham would also be a part of the local law enforcement establishment or would be an FBI employee. This apparently was on Bob’s mind, also. I don’t recall who brought it up, but I do recall that we discussed it. He said that he would do some checking and find someone who could be trusted and would ensure that the tests would be confidential. With this assurance, I agreed. He also told me that he was going to ask Dale Tarrant to submit to a test.

Now life goes on and circumstances change for people—and circumstances change people. There had been 14 long years for things to get in the way. People who might have been willing to cooperate in 1963 or 1964 were less than enthusiastic in 1977. There were children who were grown and had lives and families of their own that would be disrupted. There was also the embarrassment of being put on exhibition and the shame of so many years of association with the defendant.

Aside from these issues, there were others even more disturbing. There were personal safety and the safety of loved ones. There was also Tee: how would all of this affect her after so many years? She was 65 years old in 1977, had never been alone, and was in poor health. Yet she would at least be free of the tyranny of Robert, wouldn’t she?, I reasoned. It was important, however, to protect her from any indication that she may have provided information that passed through informants to the FBI or the state investigative team.

All of these reasons for not testifying were multiplied during the investigative phase because it makes a lot more sense to silence a potential witness than it does to punish one who has already spoken. Besides, I was not convinced, nor was Dale Tarrant, that the matter would, in fact, ever come to trial. It had not come to trial during the Sixties; why was 1977 any different?

When Dale and I spoke on the telephone, I could not let even her know that I had agreed to testify, if needed, though she undoubtedly guessed that I would. She may not have understood at the time, but this was also a way of protecting her and her family.

If I were able to speak effectively, it might not be necessary for her to take the risk, especially since she had been one of the informants who had been isolated by a sheriff’s deputy, Floyd Garrett, into ineffectiveness and had been in danger all of those years. If she had come forward publicly, she would have been disgraced by lies about her reasons for the many meetings with the deputy—that is, if  she had been allowed to live. Paranoia? No. Several years later when both her name and that of the deputy became public, Garrett did, in fact, discount the value of her efforts because he did nothing with the information she gave him. He led her on. He made her believe he was building a case while he compromised her credibility.

After a couple of days, Bob Eddy called me to say that the polygraph examination would be conducted in Savannah, Georgia. At first I protested. That arrangement would take so much time and effort, it seemed impossible. I was pastor of a church participating in a four-church parish program of community service. I was running a household with a spouse and my son, and I was a full-time student in my senior year at Birmingham-Southern College. I was busy, too busy to take a trip to Georgia.

There were also moments when I questioned my decision to trust Bob Eddy. Since he had learned of the Mel Alexander report, he had seemed a bit tense and guarded with me. I had never taken a polygraph examination before, and I had no reason to believe the tests were particularly credible.

“One day,” he promised me. “We’ll fly over, take the test, and fly back in the same day.”

“I want Robin to go with me.”

“You can take him if you’ll be more comfortable,” he agreed. He then set the date and time.

It turned out that Robin couldn’t take the day off from his job, so he just took me to the airport with plans to drop me off. When we arrived in the hangar area where the state-owned airplane was housed, we went into the small waiting area. Bob Eddy, Jon Yung, and a pilot were there.

Someone asked who Robin was and seemed upset by his presence. Bob explained that he was my son and was to go with us. We told them that he would not, after all, be able to go, and were informed that since he was there and knew about the trip, he had to go. One of the men, I think that it was Jon, escorted Robin to a pay telephone to call his employer and claim to be sick. The man Robin worked for was demanding and unreasonable and tried to insist that Robin come to work, “sick” or no. Finally Robin told him that he simply wasn’t corning and hung up.

Dale Tarrant joined us at the airport, and we gathered on the tarmac near the hangar where the small six-passenger plane sat waiting. As we smoked cigarettes and made small talk while the pilot did some last minute things, the subject of security came up. Dale questioned our safety. Bob assured her that every detail was attended to and there were no weapons or bombs on board.

We were at the doorway to the small plane by this time, and she turned to me and joked, “I guess I’d better take this one out of my purse then.” I was horrified that she would so innocently say exactly the wrong thing. Bob stopped her with a hand on her arm. He took her purse and had the pilot stand by while he went through the purse’s contents on the wing of the plane. She repeatedly told him that she was joking and was both angry and embarrassed that he reacted so strongly. He did not know her, and I can understand that he could not behave otherwise under the circumstances.

The flight was long and boring, but napping was impossible due to tension and crowded conditions. After a while conversation lulled except for quiet exchanges between Bob and the pilot. Bob sat beside the pilot, Dale and I occupied the center seats, while Robin and Jon sat in the rear. I felt vulnerable and isolated, but I did not feel alone. There was also a sense of trepidation in facing a polygraph, yet this had to be faced with resolve the same way every other step had had to be.

I learned that the polygrapher was a man past middle age whose services were often used bv the FBI; he was the same one who would later be seen on television when he administered a test to Gary Thomas Rowe. His offices were in an upscale building fronting one of the many downtown parks or squares in Savannah; we could hear the river sounds, but there was no opportunity for sightseeing.

He wired me up to his machine in a small inner office and explained the procedure to me. His voice was kindly but efficient; nothing wasted. He asked a few questions to set criteria for the test, including, “Are you nervous, now?” Then without preamble he began the actual examination.

There were ten or so target questions, but only two or three upon which a great deal hinged. Had I been at or near the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church the evening of Saturday, September 14, 1963, or the morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963; and had I told the FBI that I had been? These questions were asked in several different ways, but the effect was the same. Who was correct; was Mel Alexander or was I? After the test was complete, the polygrapher unhooked all the wires and buckles, handed me a tissue and walked me to the door of the room. Bob was standing there waiting just outside, a look of question on his face.

“You are either the most honest person I have ever tested or the calmest,” the examiner said to me as the three of us stood in the doorway.

“I’m certainly not calm,” I replied.

It was Dale’s turn then, and it seemed to take forever. At some point we had lunch and later coffee. I don’t recall eating much or even what I ate. Robin and Jon had walked around out in the parks while the tests were being done. During this time, Robin started to feel more at ease with the slight, boyish-looking attorney, and some of the tension of the day lifted for him. Having planned on going to work that morning, Robin was too warmly dressed for the muggy Savannah afternoon, so at some point during their walking, Jon bought Robin a shirt; my own distraction during that day was such that I lost sight of this for some years.

After Dale’s test was finished, Bob and Jon took me aside. They told me that she had not done very well on the test, and that they had to decide what to do. The two men suggested that it might be necessary to take her into custody; the attorney general might want to lodge charges against her as an accessory.

Every red light and panic button in me went on alert. “No!” I told them bluntly. If they did either, I would not testify and would have nothing further to say. I told them that if, and I emphasized “if,” she had not “done well” on the test, it was due to being highly excitable and intimidated. Her performance had nothing whatsoever to do with any “guilt” on her part. They looked at each other and led me back to where she and Robin were waiting. Nothing more was said about the results of her test to me.

When we were all together, they said only that the tests would be evaluated after we got back. Bob Eddy told me later that Dale would not be asked to testify, although he accepted the truthfulness of her statements.

So far as I know, when Dale reads this, it will be her first knowledge of the exchange between Bob, Jon, and me. As I reflect on that conversation and later conversations, I think I did exactly what they wanted me to do. I believe they were baiting me into a commitment. At that time, I don’t think Bob Eddy or Jon Yung realized that my only hesitation was that I didn’t want to become a target. I did not want my cooperation to be publicized and then to be left hanging. Nor did I want to testify in open court in a leaky case so that Robert and his cronies would come after me after they had been acquitted. I knew what they could (and would) do to someone they felt had betrayed them. I knew that violence was not only a practice for them, but a form of recreation. These men did their night-riding the same way other men played sandlot baseball.

I had also been made aware through the years that there were more subtle methods for eliminating enemies. Had no one noticed that “weak links” kept turning up dead just ahead of Bob’s investigation? Had he missed the implications that at least two Klansmen had died once he had made it known that he wanted to talk to them? Two of these men who had been FBI or police informants: John Wesley Hall and Ross Keith. And earlier, Troy Ingram had suddenly died, once the re-activated investigation had started to look serious.

We had to go to Savannah in order to be safe taking a polygraph, for heaven’s sake!

Opening Files

When I first met him, I did not know how much Bob Eddy did not know. He did not seem to know who I was other than a niece of Mrs. Chambliss. He was apparently wondering why I had refused to appear before the grand jury and seemingly expected, from the information he had, that this might be just another “I don’t know anything, I didn’t see anything” interview — the sort of thing he had gotten from other family members, friends, neighbors, Klansmen, and politicians who had been interviewed.

Attorney General Bill Baxley, I learned later, had during much of his time as attorney general attempted to obtain FBI files on the case. The FBI in Washington had refused to turn over files, evidence, and information for years. When finally some of those files had been made available, Bob Eddy had been given office space, and the FBI had doled out information to him as it saw fit.

The information Bob had available on me was a rather slim file with nothing of substance in it other than a summary report written by special agent Robert Womack on October 12, 1963, after they had interviewed me a couple of times. It contained the Saturday morning conversation between Robert Chambliss and me and my own impressions of Robert as a violent man capable of almost anything. There was, however, another file. This file that had been code-named and had had most of its telling details (which might have revealed the person’s identity) expunged.

Bob Eddy and his fellow investigators and prosecutors had spent hours upon hours going over files, and as I spoke to him, bits and pieces of information had jumped into his mind. I saw it in his face when he realized that I was one of the missing links.

Frankly, I left the hotel room that first night feeling that I might be stepping into a hopeless situation, again. It might be just another political show to appear to be doing something for votes, I thought. I feared that Bob might be just another street agent with no authority and no initiative. He, too, might be subject to the boss pulling the plug, as the FBI agents had been a decade earlier.Yet how could I not stick with it at least long enough to see?

My next meetings with Bob Eddy were much more intense. He was armed with more detailed questions and asked about events and conversations that were more pertinent. Soon he introduced me to assistant attorneys general Jon Yung and George Beck.

Jon Yung was a small man, dapper and tough. Yet he, too, was gentle and respectful during our meetings. He was present at many of the ensuing meetings I had with Bob, and on a couple of occasions, I met with him alone. Jon was to conduct the questioning in court, and I started to realize that he was building a rapport toward that end: helping me to trust him and feel at ease with his questions.

During those many interviews, I repeatedly told both of them that I would not testify unless the case (with my testimony) had an absolute certainty of conviction; nor would I testify if there were a possibility of convicting without my doing so. I wanted to help; I wanted the horror put to rest. I wanted Robert, whom I knew to be a human monster, to face a penalty for his crimes. Here was a man who had talked about, even bragged about, a long career of assaults, batteries, maimings, and murders, and yet had never been convicted of a crime more serious than “flogging while masked.”

No, I did not want to testify in open court. I did not want to subject my family or my church congregation to that. I did not want to risk acquittal, which would have meant a very sure death sentence for me and perhaps for others I could not protect. I did not want to, but I knew — and they knew — I would.

I was assured that the other men in the car with Robert Chambliss that night would also be charged. I was assured that J. B. Stoner, Robert Shelton, and others who were believed to have furnished support, financing, and approval (if not orders) would also be prosecuted. I was assured that the involvement of police officers in the crimes would probably result in charges of conspiracy.

Yet there was no pretense about the risk involved. It was obvious from the beginning that no one could be allowed to know that I was continuing to meet with investigators, telling them everything I could think of that might lead to other testimony or tie together facts they already knew. Nor could anyone be told if the decision were made for me to testify — not even family members could know in advance of the actual court appearance.

All of this evolved over a period of weeks, and although I was trying to be cooperative and they were being polite and kind, there were some cat-and-mouse tactics going on.

One factor, which should be obvious, is that I had had many years to shove all of this far back into the recesses of memory so that it would not haunt me to such an extent that I could not live and function. During that process of purposeful forgetting, some details had blurred. I could not always be sure that I actually remembered certain things of my own knowledge or whether I was recalling information given to me by the FBI. On the other hand, when my current offerings were not as complete as these investigators expected, there seemed to be doubt about my willingness to cooperate.

Only weeks away from a trial date that had been awaited for more than fourteen years, they were still putting pieces of the puzzle together! During September and October 1977, several rather drastic or unorthodox steps were taken to establish the truth and usability of any testimony I might give. One problem was that Bob was aware of but had not been given the code-named files on me; the FBI was still holding files coded for witness protection. So it was still problematic to tie together details, and they had still not talked to the “other” witness who had been with me during so much of the FBI’s investigation. Bob asked me if I would go over the FBI file on me with him. It seems that the local office still would not release some information without my expressed permission and that perhaps there was confusion. I agreed.

Bob picked me up, and we went to the Federal Building, usually known as the “2121 Building,” on Eighth Avenue North in downtown Birmingham. This structure housed the FBI offices as well as local offices of other federal agencies. He parked the car in the underground parking garage accessed from the alley behind the building.

We were joined by Jon Yung and another man who seemed to be escorting us. We rode the elevator to the fourteenth floor and exited into a hallway.

We then entered a large meeting room with a huge rectangular table ringed by upholstered chairs, like one would expect to find in the boardroom of a successful corporation. This was not, however, our destination; we went through this room to a doorway in the far corner of the left-hand wall. This opened onto a stairway leading down one flight to the “nonexistent” thirteenth floor. Leaving the stairwell through a door with a coded lock, we went into another room and then another hallway. There we waited at a locked door until we were identified and a code was keyed into the lock.

Aside from the intimidation factor of this routine, it seemed unnecessarily obtuse. It also struck me that a person could disappear into this labyrinth and never be heard from again. Paranoia? Perhaps.

Once admitted into the inner sanctum of the FBI’s offices, we went through windowless halls and finally into a very small windowless room that held a desk with a chair behind it and a chair in front of it. Half a dozen or so men ranged tightly packed around the walls. A large man sat facing me across the desk, upon which he placed a ledger-bound volume of pages four or more inches thick. Obviously Bob and I were not to “go over” the file, as his request had suggested to me.

The man at the desk first carefully verified my identity and then opened the file before him and started to scan the entries, reading excerpts and asking, ‘Was that you?” or “Did you say that?” to each. For quite some time this continued, with me answering either in the affirmative, or not recalling specifically.

Then, almost lulled into the routine of the process, he read an excerpt that jolted me to attention as I denied the truthfulness of the entry. “Mel Alexander wrote this report on—” he recited the date in December 1964 and read on from the report which had been sent to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. In the report Alexander said that he had uncovered, at last, the evidence that would ensure a conviction. Then he had recorded the “what if . . .” scenario that Dale Tarrant had presented and that I had not denied. But it was different.

I had not denied it in 1964 because I didn’t think it was presented as knowledge on my part. Whether it was presented to Mel Alexander as a fact that we had driven by the church, curious to find out what might be going on that night, or whether he had decided to use it to push his superior into action on an indictment, I do not know. Dale had said the scenario was not presented as fact but as a question: “What if . . .” such witnesses would testify, would it be enough to prosecute?

Mel’s report claimed that an account of the sighting was given to him as fact and that an offer to testify had been made. Weighing Mel Alexander’s reputation against Dale’s life, it’s difficult for me to believe that she would falsify anything she gave him after so many years of trying to help gather information. Her efforts to gather evidence had predated Mel Alexander; her efforts to bring an end to the bombings and violence in Birmingham by passing information to Deputy Sheriff James Hancock predated the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and any involvement with the FBI. Hancock had betrayed her trust in him, and yet she had risked passing information to the FBI.

Were there actually two witnesses to the bomb being placed that early Sunday morning about 2 a.m.? Did we ride downtown and drive along Seventh Avenue North and see the two-toned Chevrolet that belonged to Tommy Blanton near the alley that ran behind the church? Did she see a man carrying something by a handle going toward the building? Then after going around several blocks, did we again see the car parked on Seventh Avenue apparently waiting for the man on foot to return to it? Were Chambliss and at least two other men recognizable? Were there four or five persons in the car? Mel Alexander’s report allegedly answered these questions, and even in the face of such compelling “evidence,” J. Edgar Hoover had refused twice to turn the information over to the Justice Department to seek an indictment.

What did I know or not know about the Klan and its terrorist activities? During 1963, all of 1964, and partway through 1965, I was not certain that Tommy Rowe was a paid FBI informant, though Robert often said that he was.

I was never specifically told that the FBI had put John Wesley “Nigger” Hall on its payroll as an informant. I was not told that Henry Alexander, one of the night-riding Klansmen from Montgomery and one of the traveling men between Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and Anniston, had also been put on the FBI payroll.

I did know, in general, that hundreds of Klansmen were recruited onto the informants’ dole by FBI agents in the South. These men routinely engaged in violent behavior, committing crimes against black citizens and destroying property, and were rewarded for calling in occasionally or for following (as it was later revealed in Senate investigations of FBI agents) “suggestions” for Klan activity. Testimony before the Senate task force indicated that Klansmen on the take were routinely encouraged to sleep with other Klansmen’s wives and were given instructions to instigate violence on occasion.

In answer to questions about the night of the bombing, however, I’ve wrestled with the events that took place so many times, I’ve visualized the streets and the faces, had my dreams invaded with nightmares. Was I there that night?

I think I was in the car with Dale, but I was not aware of where we were. My own attention was not drawn to the specific events, and that night blended in with many others when she and I were together going bowling, eating out, or just riding around talking.

Do I think she saw what she reported in the “what if . . .” scenario? No. Was the “what if ” a description to cover up the presence of yet another person who was witness to the events of the evening of September 14-15, 1963, whose safety could not ever be guaranteed? Yes, I believe that it was.

I believe that Robert’s wife, my Aunt Tee, had either firsthand knowledge of exactly what happened or knew who was in the car and had details of the plan to place the homemade bomb under the sidesteps of the building. I believe that Dale tried to let Mel Alexander know this for Tee, and he misinterpreted the scenario.

I was not satisfied, however, to settle with this speculation. By this time, I had spoken with Dale Tarrant and convinced her to meet with Bob Eddy. She had done so, but she adamantly refused to testify and denied having been personally near the church that night.

So much was at stake, and underlying everything was my personal ethic that demanded my memory be completely accurate. I had to verify my recall and sort all of this out for my own peace of mind.

During this period of time, I was blessed in having a varied circle of supportive friends of unique talents whom I could trust implicitly. I called upon two of them: Dr. Barbara Lester, sociology professor at Birmingham-Southern College, in whom I had confided during the earlier weeks of the renewed investigation, and a woman I knew less well, who was a clinical psychologist and also an acquaintance of Barbara’s. I knew this woman was trained in hypnotherapy, so I asked Barbara to approach her about exploring the accuracy of my memory through hypnosis. I also asked Barbara to act as monitor to any sessions should her friend agree.

A few days later, the three of us gathered in a Highland Avenue apartment. I lay on the living room floor, my head on a pillow, relaxing as the psychologist led me into trance, with Barbara and a tape recorder witnessing the session.

It says a great deal about trust to recall that, although I was nervous about being hypnotized and what I might recall, I went into an altered state of awareness quite easily, although I had not been able to trust local, state, or federal law enforcement officers and had found it necessary to make a conscious decision to trust Bob Eddy. And I was only beginning to trust Jon Yung.

When I was guided back to full and current awareness of my surroundings by the psychologist, I did not instantly remember the content of the session. I was a little puzzled and embarrassed that both the psychologist and Barbara were rather wide-eyed and excited. Barbara played the tape back, and I, too, became wide-eyed. My statements under hypnosis established to my satisfaction that I did not have a memory of witnessing any events at or near the church during the evening of September 14 or the early morning of September 15, and I had not personally seen the car on that particular night. The images in my mind were due to information I had received. They were not visual memories.

I had also, in response to questions about the morning of September 14, repeated Robert’s remarks in a tone and modulation of voice that could almost have been him on the tape rather than a mimicry. I wept from the emotional impact.

I never told Bob Eddy or any others connected with the investigation that I had done this, nor did it change even one detail of what I had told him already. I had recited earlier my account of Saturday morning, September 14, to Bob and Jon during one of the first of our evening meetings. Jon had taken notes. Several days later, when I met with Jon alone, he handed me a tear sheet of the front page of the September 14, 1963, Birmingham newspaper. He had circled, in red, near the bottom of the page, the article about the girl being stabbed. I had told them that it had been on the front page below the fold.

I remembered Robert laying the newspaper on the table still folded with the headlines on bottom and the fold toward me as I sat across the table. He had pointed and gestured that morning, and at one point he had put his open hand palm down on the page in emphasis. This was when he was telling me to “Just wait until after Sunday morning . . .”.

When he had first said that to me, and the first several times that I repeated it, I had thought that it sounded rather clumsy. The construction of the sentence sounded strange and contrived. Why had he, on Saturday, said “Just wait until after Sunday morning . . . “?

Why not “tomorrow morning” or something like “after tonight”? There seems only one reason why Robert would phrase it the way he did; that morning was not the first time he had made the statement. He had used the same words before, probably several times, to several people. And he had been saying it for less than a week, for he simply said “Sunday morning,” meaning the next one. It was not a threat in his mind: it was a promise, it was a plan.

Reckoning

FBI Poster of Missing Civil Rights Workers. L to r: Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner.

It seemed that the decade between 1962 and 1972 was punctuated by gunshots. Life was full of violence and change, and the periods were bullets: Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy in 1963; civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney in Mississippi in 1964; Viola Liuzzo in 1965; James Meredith in 1966; Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy in 1968; George Wallace on the campaign trail in Maryland in 1972.

These and many less well-publicized hate-attacks added to the horror story of history that was the Sixties and early Seventies and to the horror story that our family was plunged into. Added to the gunshots were the bombs, the fires, the “accidents,” the “suicides,” and the “apparents”: apparent heart attack—no autopsy, apparent stroke—no autopsy, apparent cirrhosis, stomach cancer, etc., etc.—no autopsy. Even the “apparent” heart attack that ended the life of J. Edgar Hoover in 1972 was never investigated, and no autopsy was performed.

Convinced that there would never be a satisfactory outcome and that the bombing cases were closed issues, I had to try to put myself back together. Yes, there were other things happening: there were old people dying, younger people getting married and having babies, the highs and lows of life went on. What I had to do was try to figure out what “normal” meant for me.

Deeply disappointed in religious people, I had withdrawn from church in 1963, denounced religion, and sworn that I would never darken the door of a church again. I stayed broke a lot back then; the women’s movement hadn’t started up yet, and I found myself training men making twice my salary how to do my work. In spring 1966, I had the assertiveness to point this out during my annual evaluation and consequently was put on probation for three months.

In an attempt to save my credit, I advertised my car for sale. The ad was answered by a dapper and learned man who turned out to be the Pastor of Woodlawn United Methodist Church. On his second trip to look at the car, he worked the conversation around to me. He told me he saw pain in my eyes — and I was instantly in tears. He didn’t buy the car but I found a faith again and a new church home in the summer of 1966.

After that I began to change. I first went back to work in retail display, but a severe injury to my knee brought that to a quick end. I again got a job in insurance, this time with a general agency, underwriting automobile insurance.

I also went through a number of romances, drank myself calm enough to go to sleep almost every night, and lay awake the others. Between 1966 and 1968 I had two major surgeries, one to try to repair my injured right knee. Ironically, Tee was sitting nights with the other patient in my semi-private hospital room. That first night after surgery, she bathed my feverish head and said she was paying me back for bathing hers with a sock so many years before.

When I left the hospital to recuperate at home confined to a wheelchair or the bed, there was no one to care for me except 11-year-old Robin and a friend from work who stopped by each evening to cook our supper, give me pain medication, and move the cigarettes too far for me to reach. She was afraid I would burn up the bed when the medication kicked in.

That’s when I started to wake up — to come out of it. Flat on my back with nowhere to look but up, I realized there is more to life than wallowing in victimization. That’s when the world changed from black-and-white to living color for me. I knew there would be no quick fixes. No instant sainthood here. No walking on water — in fact, after the surgery I had to learn to walk again on an altered and atrophied leg.

In the next couple of years, I made a lot of mistakes. Stupid stuff. By 1970, I was tired, bankrupt, and desperately determined to close that dark era. Besides, the world had Vietnam and Watergate. It had forgotten Birmingham, it had forgotten the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and it had forgotten the Freedom Rides.

The forgetting world hardly knew who Robert Chambliss and his “buddies” were, and it knew nothing of me.

In the fall of 1970 I met a young Vietnam vet and married him. Since no one seemed to think our marriage was a good idea, we enjoyed each other with a you-and-me-against-the-world attitude. For a year or so after I remarried I tried pretending to be a normal, stay-at-homebody, but soon I found that I was too restless, and, besides, we needed additional income. I began to sell real estate, studying for and passing the state licensing examination.

This was an excellent diversion for a while. Previously I had worked as an insurance underwriter, and I had studied contract, agency, and tort law in preparation for the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter designation. So the challenges of putting together real estate deals in the inflation-ridden boom of the Seventies occupied my mind pleasantly for a time. Soon, however, the unrest again took hold, and I started yet another new phase in life.

God and I had gotten on pretty good terms by this time. I had stopped drinking and usually slept nights, I knew the returns of tithing and praying, and I was strongly spiritual (if not theological) in my thinking. I gave in after years of fighting off God, and in spring 1975, I announced my intention to study for the ministry in the United Methodist Church.

This was a singularly pivotal time in life for me. The years of stress and duress, fear and frustration, disappointment and disillusionment had given me a strength and resolve that otherwise I might not have had, and perhaps could not have had. Daily knowing that a slip can end one’s life gives a very clear perspective of the brevity of life and the high cost of wasted years.

I would not acknowledge closed doors. With a G.E.D. from 1961 and credit for four courses from the University Extension Center, I applied for admission to Birmingham-Southern College, declaring myself a ministerial student.

I stood the examination of the Charge Conference of my local church and I was touched and amazed to hear people one after another stand to speak in witness of my calling to ministry. The district superintendent at that time was openly opposed to my ministerial candidacy, but I quietly and consistently kept taking the prescribed steps toward that end.

I said above that this was a pivotal time in life for me. Not only did it reflect strength gained from prior years, but, although I could not know it at the time, it also established me as a person whose credibility was so unimpeachable that my testimony could make a profound difference on the witness stand a few years into the future.

I started classes with “Intro to Theology” under Dr. Earl Gossett in summer 1975. In June 1976, I was appointed to my first pastorate, Acmar United Methodist Church, a rural church about 25 miles northeast of Birmingham that met every other Sunday and alternate fifth Sundays. It was my privilege to baptize my goddaughter, Maria, in that little church, and while there I increased the frequency of services to weekly and brought about some repairs to the building. Not a particularly spectacular first year, but it was good, very good.

My husband and I had moved into married student housing on the Birmingham-Southern College campus after I was appointed to Acmar. For about a year prior, we had lived in a house owned by Woodlawn United Methodist Church while I studied, taught in the church, and served as director of the church’s child-development center. Robin had quit school and married at age 17, and early in 1977, at age 20, with the advent of a divorce, he moved in with us in the small two-bedroom apartment on campus, and worked in a record store in the nearby town of Hoover. That, too, proved fateful as 1977 rolled around.

In January I did my chaplaincy internship at Carraway Medical Center under the Reverend Wayne Vickery, and in the spring my attention was drawn inexplicably to Denman Memorial United Methodist Church. Not knowing why and not being familiar with the church, I simply put it on my prayer list and started praying about it.

In April, I received a call from Denman’s pastor, telling me that he was going to Nashville for further schooling and had been asked by the superintendent and the bishop to help select his replacement. Faculty members at Birmingham-Southern College had given him a list of possible names, and mine was among them. We met, and he later suggested to the hierarchy that I be appointed to the church. This is just the way things were happening in my life. It didn’t matter where I lived. For the first time I knew the meaning of “home.” The only vow I ever made God was to do what I found under my hand to do — the rest was up to Him.

My life was so busy during that spring and summer that I hadn’t paid any attention to any world outside my own. It was demanding, it was challenging in a way I enjoyed, and I was content. Not satisfied, but content.

Life was basically good, and there was very little contact with my family. A cousin married, and I conducted the ceremony. That was a joyous occasion.

My Uncle Jim Hillhouse died in July 1977, and I performed the graveside service. This event marked one of the few times during those years that I saw Robert Chambliss; I was deeply disturbed and sickened by his presence and by his flicking of cigarette ashes into Jim’s grave. Still, conducting the service was a favor I gladly did for Jim’s wife, my Aunt Viola.

Pulpit appointments were made during the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church in June 1977, and I started to pastor Denman Memorial’s small congregation. Many of those people at Denman were champions of love and support, and they would be sorely tried before the year was out.

Robin took his G.E.D. exam late in summer 1977 and was set to begin college classes in the fall semester; his freshman year would be my senior. We were both excited. It had taken me a long time to get back to school, and I was anxious for him to be able to go to college while he was young.

Before moving into the parsonage at Denman toward the end of August, we took a short and much-needed vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. On the Friday we were to leave, I finished my work early in the day, had the car serviced, and went home to our apartment on the Birmingham-Southern campus. There I found a telephone message from Sergeant Cantrell of the Birmingham Police Department; I tried to return his call, but he had left the office for the weekend. My Aunt Mary called a few moments later to tell me that Birmingham Police Department Captain Jack LeGrand had called her—he also was trying to locate me. Unable to return LeGrand’s call either, we left on vacation, going first to Mobile to visit friends, then to Atlanta and into the mountains.

When we returned the following Thursday, August 12, 1977, I turned on the evening news to hear that the grand jury was hearing testimony in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing case. FBI agent Mel Alexander had told us that the bombing case had “fallen through the cracks” at the U.S. Department of Justice a decade before, but now in 1977, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley was calling for a “day of reckoning.”

The first image I saw on the television screen was Robert Chambliss in the hallway outside the sixth-floor grand jury room; he was attacking a news cameraman. The look on Robert’s face and his balled-up fists were so familiar and so disquieting, the effects of my relaxing vacation were instantly negated.

About the same time my telephone rang. It was my Aunt Mary. She told me that “they” were looking for me and had a subpoena to call me to testify before the grand jury. Jack LeGrand had called her again, trying to locate me. She said she had been pestered all week with calls. I started to tremble a bit inside as I verified with her who in particular would be the person to contact. I called police headquarters and learned that LeGrand  had already left for the day. Rather than speak to anyone else, I looked up his number and called him at home. I realized it was better to speak to him at his home, for there was almost no chance that the call would be traced. I’m not sure why I felt so strongly, but the atmosphere in Birmingham and the South as I grew up was not one to give honest people faith in law enforcement. Crooks and conspirators consorted openly with neighborhood cops.

I still was distrusting of all law enforcement personnel. I did not know Jack LeGrand, but I recognized Ernie Cantrell’s name. Cantrell had been one of the officers on duty from 11 pm until 7 am the night of September 14-15, 1963, assigned to patrol the church and the A. G. Gaston Motel. That night, a special car had been posted a half block away with a clear view of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church’s street-side steps under which the bomb had been placed. A “decoy” bomb threat was said to have been called in to the Holiday Inn Motel on Third Avenue North, and the special car then rendezvoused with other cars and watched the motel rather than the church property that night. However, the “decoy” bomb threat was not broadcast on the police radio band, and transcripts of police radio transmissions for that night do not show a call received for the motel about 1:30 am. It does show, at 1:34 am, a call ordering a rendezvous between two cars, but there were no instructions to abandon watch on the church.

Old feelings of mistrust were stirred up in me, When I reached LeGrand by telephone and told him who I was, he started to say something excitedly, but I cut him off by saying, “I understand that you are looking for me.”

He regained his composure somewhat, and I’m sure saw my call as a real stroke of luck that he would be able to take some kind of credit for. “You have to report to the grand jury at 10 am tomorrow,” he gruffly demanded.

“No, I won’t do that,” I replied as calmly and politely as I could manage.

“You have to! I’ve got a subpoena for you, and I’ll serve it tonight. You will be arrested if you don’t cooperate!” he shouted, blustering.

“I’ll be glad to try to cooperate., but I will not come to the courthouse and be filmed in that hallway with speculation as to what I may be saying. I have a family and a church congregation, and I won’t subject either of them to that.” I was still outwardly calm, but my insides were trembling. I was, however, entirely deliberate in my refusal.

“You can be charged with. . .”

“If you will listen just a minute, Captain, I will make an appointment to speak to someone from the attorney general’s office and try to help any way I can, but I absolutely will not testify before a grand jury.”

He was quiet for several seconds and then said, “Give me your number, and I’ll call you back.”

Taking a deep breath, I gave him the number and listened as he told me to stay there until he called back. Of course I was afraid that the next sound I would hear would be sirens, but I figured it right. He was taking no direction without the attorney general’s staff. They were letting him front for them and do their legwork.

I received a call back in less than a half hour, with instructions to contact a state investigator—a telephone number, a room number, and a name. I called, and a man answered the telephone. “Is this Bob Eddy.”

“Yes.”

“Jack LeGrand said you would be expecting my call,” I told him, amazed that I actually sounded calm.

Eddy asked me to come to the Rodeway Inn near the University of Alabama at Birmingham. My husband went with me, which for him was a brave thing to do; after that trip, however, he was kept out of and away from my contacts with these investigators. That night he sat at the far end of the suite while I talked to them.

There was a small table covered with papers and file folders. The state investigator Bob Eddy sat down at the table after he let us into the room. There were two other men present, but introductions went right past me, if there were any; I was not impressed that one of them might be the attorney general.

Bob Eddy was a big man. Tall and solidly built. Thin brown hair, a round face, big hands. He greeted me politely and asked me to sit with him at the table. He seemed just a bit disoriented when we began, as though he did not know what to ask me and was not sure why I was there.

After a few general questions that I answered honestly, if vaguely, I decided that we might as well see where this was going. I told him, in effect, that I was sure he had a file from the FBI containing everything I knew as fact, and I couldn’t really add anything that I had not told to the FBI years before, so just what was it I was expected to tell a grand jury? I as much as told him that I was not willing to publicly make any statements and then be left hanging out to dry as the investigation came to nothing — again.

Bob’s attention level visibly changed, and he asked me a few pointed questions. Then he said, “Just tell me what you do know.”

“What I know or what I believe I know?”

“Everything. “

I told him I believed that Robert had, in fact, been involved in placing the bomb that exploded that Sunday morning and that there had been four men, possibly five, in a two-toned Chevrolet belonging to the younger Blanton. I had been told about the car and shown a picture of it by FBI agents during the 1960s investigation. I told him that most of what I knew or believed I knew was from knowing Robert, his history of violence, and statements he had made to me.

“Do you know who the other men in the car were?” he asked.

“I’m not positive.”

“Who do you think they were?”

“I believe that Tommy Blanton was driving the car and that Troy Ingram may have been one of the other men, and probably Jack Cash.” I told him that I didn’t know about the other man, perhaps Charles Cagle or Hall or someone else.

“Why couldn’t Bobby Cherry be the other man?”

“Why not?” I returned.

A short time later, he ended the interview, and I agreed to meet him again in a few days.

“Does this negate the subpoena to appear before the grand jury?” I asked him as I started to leave.

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of them. You don’t need to talk to anyone except me or to someone I introduce you to, with me present. OK?”

“All right,” I agreed. “But what about the city police?”

“Don’t talk to the city. Don’t talk to the county. If they try to talk to you, make them call me.”

I assured him that I would. It occurred to me that this could be a reenactment of the isolation of informants that had been such a hallmark of Klan-related investigations in the past. There was something about this big yet gentle man, though, that made me feel he at least cared whether I were safe. I made a conscious decision that night to trust Bob Eddy to a degree I had not trusted anyone before or since. I also made a decision that I really could not totally trust anyone except him and myself. When we returned home, I sat my husband and Robin down and told them that the next weeks or months would be out of my control. Remembering the years dealing with FBI agents, I told them that there might be times I could not and would not tell them where I was going or when I would return.

I explained that this was not to worry them and I would not involve them where it was not necessary, nor would I tolerate any interference; there would be things I could not tell them, so they were not to ask.

I did not know then that Bob Eddy had been working out of an office in the FBI headquarters and that he had been given (bit by bit) information that agency had deemed all right for him to have.

I did not know how much time and money the state had expended in interviewing Gary Thomas Rowe. I did not know that when the investigation got close to him, Robert’s buddy Troy Ingram had been found dead in his vehicle.

I did not know that Klansman and former FBI informant John Wesley Hall had agreed to talk to Bob Eddy when he came back from a few days in Florida, but that he did not return. He was found dead in his bed in Florida. Nor did I know that Klansman and former police informant Ross Keith had also died shortly after being located for Bob Eddy by Birmingham police.

There was a great deal that I did not know because I had not been watching these people. My current life was in a world removed from Robert Chambliss and his cronies, and that had been the way I wanted it.