FOURTEEN YEARS AGO this month a bomb hurled from a passing automobile destroyed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four blacks teenage girls and injuring 19 other people. That bombing came 18 days after the 1963 March on Washington and followed a summer of daily civil-rights demonstrations, and numerous bombings, in a city that civil-rights workers had come to call "Bombingham." At the time, and down through the years, few who were acquainted with efforts in the South to indict whites for crimes against blacks - and especially crimes related to civil rights - held much hope that those responsible would be brought to trial.
But Bill Baxley, the Alabama attorney general since 1970, believes that justice in his state should mean the same thing for blacks and whites. With the help of a local county grand jury, Mr. Baxley had doggedly pursued the trial of the perpetrators of the 1963 bombing, Monday, the grand jury indicted a former Ku Klux Klansman on four counts of first-degree murder in the details of the four girls. More indictments for the crime may follow. And the grand jury is continuing to investigate more than 50 other bombings that occurred in the Birmingham area during the tense early 1960s.
We need scarcely remind you that those who are indicted must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise in court. But the mere fact of this indictment, whatever its outcome, seems to us to carry great historical significance. For it places in bold relief the great changes that have occurred in much of the South during the last decade. Ten years ago it would have been inconceivable that a white "native son" of Alabama would vigorously conduct so relentless an investigation of so racially motivated a crime. Ten years ago there would have been cynical talk of "Southern justice." Today, thanks to Mr. Baxley and many more like him, Southern justice is something to be spoken of with pride.