Bill Baxley, former Alabama Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor, comes from a family with a rich Southern heritage. Relatives on both sides of his family fought and died for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and he hadn’t traveled north of Memphis until he graduated from Law School. Yet, his father instilled in him the belief that all individuals ought to be treated fairly and with respect, and Mr. Baxley took those lessons with him into his career of public service.
On September 15, 1963, the day that the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, Mr. Baxley was studying at the University of Alabama Law School. He vowed to pursue justice on behalf of the four girls that were killed and the many community members affected by such senseless violence. He got his chance when, at the age of 28, Mr. Baxley was elected the Alabama Attorney General. Using the broad powers of his office, Mr. Baxley reopened the case, which had gone unresolved for more than five years.
Mr. Baxley learned that prior to ceasing its investigation, the FBI had identified a gentleman named Robert Chambliss as a potential suspect. Mr. Chambliss was a Ku Klux Klan member known for his extraordinarily violent inclinations, and he had been coordinating a group that was dissatisfied with the ferocity of the Klan’s attacks thus far. At 2am the night before churchgoers would file into services, Chambliss and three accomplices placed the bomb beneath the church and waited for the destruction it would cause.
The only witness to the case was Curtis Glen, who had seen Mr. Chambliss pull up to the church in his car the night before the bombing. She had moved to Detroit, but refused to return to Alabama to appear as a witness. It was only with the help of lawyer Fred Gray – confidant of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King – that Ms. Curtis agreed to testify on behalf of the community rent apart by the bomb on that fateful Sunday. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Chambliss was prosecuted and sentenced to life in prison. Mr. Baxley’s story is one of courage and perseverance, and his example still shines brightly for all those looking to make a difference.