Jewell Christopher “Chris” McNair, the father of one of four young girls killed in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church, died Wednesday. He was 93.
His family confirmed his death Wednesday in a statement.
McNair’s oldest daughter Denise was one of four girls killed when a bomb placed by Ku Klux Klan members ripped through Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963. Others killed in the blast were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson as more than 20 people sustained injuries.
In 1977, state Attorney General Bob Baxley reopened the investigation, leading to the murder trial of Klan leader Robert E. Chambliss in the fatal bombing. Chambliss died in prison in 1985 maintaining his innocence.
Years later, former Klan members Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry, were tried in the case, with a conviction in 2001 for Blanton and another in 2002 for Cherry. A fourth suspect, Herman Frank Cash, died in 1994 before he could be brought to trial.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said in a statement that “Mr. McNair and his family are forever tied to our country’s civil-rights legacy.”
“When he tragically lost his daughter Denise in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, his courage and fortitude fueled our march for peace,” Woodfin said.
“May we take comfort in knowing that Chris has reunited with his beloved Denise,” he added.
McNair, who was a photographer by trade, became one of the first African-American members of the Alabama Legislature since Reconstruction when he was elected as a state representative in 1973. He later became a longtime member of the Jefferson County Commission.
Until he retired from politics in 2001, McNair avoided public discussion of his daughter’s slaying “because people would say—and did say—I was using it to advance my own cause,” according to an article at Smithsonian.com.
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SOURCE: The Philadelphia Tribune