After being elected Attorney General of Alabama in 1970, 29-year-old Bill Baxley (pictured above) reopened the 16th Street Church bombing case that involved the deaths of four young African-American girls who died when their church was firebombed in 1963. The initial investigation ended without a conviction but Baxley vowed to find and punish the men who took the four girl’s lives.
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His steadfast commitment to the case drew the ire of segregationists and white supremacist Edward R. Fields– founder of the “National States’ Rights Party” and “Grand Dragon” of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan–sent him a threatening letter for his efforts, according to the History Channel.
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The young Attorney General sent Fields a succinct reply on state letterhead:
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF ALABAMA
February 28, 1976
“Dr.” Edward R. Fields
National States Rights Party
P. O. Box 1211
Marietta, Georgia 30061
Dear “Dr.” Fields:
My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is – kiss my ass.
The young lawyer got his conviction a year later.
Robert Chambliss, who was tried and cleared of wrongdoing in a 1963, was convicted for killing the four girls in the 1977 trial that Baxley prosecuted. He died in prison in 1985. Chambliss carried out the act with fellow Klan members Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas E. Blanton and Herman Cash. Cherry was convicted for his involvement in the bombing in 2002 and died in 2004. Blanton was convicted in 2001 at the age of 63 and is serving life in prison. Cash died before he could be charged.
The Huffington Post reports that this is not the first time Baxley’s letter has been highlighted by the media. Back in 1977, People magazine interviewed a then 36-year-old Baxley while be was prosecuting the case. ”Now I could do what I had sworn to do,” he reportedly said after being elected attorney general in the early 1970s. “Within two months in office I had set one goal for myself: to solve that bombing case.”
And he did just that.