Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
It was Birmingham's fourth bombing in as many weeks, the 21st in eight years, and the first to kill. Though the Klan was known to be responsible, and the FBI identified at least four suspects for arrest, Director J. Edgar Hoover felt that the chances of conviction were "remote," and no arrests were made. In 1977, at the instigation of an Alabama district attorney, Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss was convicted of murder in the bombing and sentenced to life. He died after serving eight years, denying his involvement. An excerpt from The Post of Sept. 16, 1963:
A bomb hurled from a passing car blasted a crowded Negro church today, killing four girls in their Sunday school classes and triggering outbreaks of violence that left two more persons dead in the streets.
Two Negro youths were killed in outbreaks of shooting seven hours after the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, and a third was wounded.
As darkness closed over the city hours later, shots crackled sporadically in the Negro sections. Stones smashed into cars driven by whites.
Police reported at least five fires in Negro business establishments tonight. An official said "Some are being set," including one at a mop factory touched off by gasoline thrown on the building. The fires were brought under control and there were no injuries. ...
City police shot a 16-year-old Negro to death when he refused to heed their commands to halt after they caught him stoning cars. A 13-year-old Negro boy was shot and killed as he rode his bicycle in a suburban area north of the city. ...
Thousands of hysterical Negroes poured into the area around the church this morning and police fought for two hours, firing rifles into the air, to control them.
When the crowd broke up, scattered shootings and stonings erupted through the city during the afternoon and tonight. ...
Shortly after the bombing police broke up a rally of white students protesting the desegregation of three Birmingham schools last week. A motorcade of militant adult segregationists apparently en route to the student rally was disbanded.
Police patrols, augmented by 300 State troopers sent into the city by Gov. George C. Wallace, quickly broke up all gatherings of whites and Negroes. Wallace sent the troopers and ordered 500 National Guardsmen to stand by at Birmingham armories. ...
Dozens of persons were injured when the bomb went off in the church, which held 400 Negroes at the time, including 80 children. It was Youth Day at the church.
A few hours later, police picked up two white men, questioned them about the bombing and released them.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., wired President Kennedy from Atlanta that he was going to Birmingham to plead with Negroes to "remain non-violent."
But he said that unless "immediate Federal steps are taken" there will be "in Birmingham and Alabama the worst racial holocaust this Nation has ever seen."
Dozens of survivors, their faces dripping blood from the glass that flew out of the church's stained glass windows, staggered around the building in a cloud of white dust raised by the explosion. The blast crushed two nearby cars like toys and blew out windows blocks away.