"Claude Wesley, principal of Lewis Elementary School, did not often subject himself to Sunday-school classes. He had dropped his adopted daughter Cynthia at the church and then escaped to the errands of a pleasant Sunday morning. When the noise of the blast interrupted his shoeshine, he had made his way to the church, the hospital, and finally the morgue, where he and his wife identified their daughter's remains by the feet and a ring on her finger...."
"As Virgil Ware, 13, soared down a lonely stretch of road outside Birmingham, Ala., perched on the handlebars of his brother's bicycle, he was happily unaware of the carnage downtown. It was Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. At 10:22 that morning, four black girls had been killed by a dynamite bomb set by the Ku Klux Klan at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The church was a focal point of Birmingham's civil rights turmoil that year, but that unrest hadn't touched Virgil and his coal-mining family, who lived in a modest, all-black suburb and rarely even saw white people. All Virgil had on his mind that day was the money he and his brothers were going to make with the newspaper route they had just secured....
"Succumbing to peer pressure, [Larry Joe] Sims had gone along with friends to a segregationist rally that day--and now he was holding a revolver that his classmate, Michael Lee Farley, 16, had handed him as they rode home on Farley's red motorbike, its small Confederate flag whipping in the wind. As they passed Virgil and his brother James, 16, Farley told Sims to fire the gun and "scare 'em." Sims closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. Two bullets hit Virgil in the chest and cheek, hurling him into a ditch as the motorbike sped on. "I've been shot," Virgil said. "No you ain't," [his brother] James said in disbelief. "Just stop tremblin', and you'll be O.K."
"He wasn't. Instead, Virgil Ware became the sixth and final black person to be killed in Birmingham that Sunday. (Another youth had been shot in the back by police after he threw rocks to protest the church bombing.) Virgil was the last civil rights casualty of the summer of '63--when the defining social movement of 20th century America became a national concern and not just a Southern one. Network television brought the season's atrocities into U.S. living rooms along with the triumphs, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington 2 1/2 weeks earlier....
"Farley and Sims were charged with first-degree murder, but an all-white jury convicted Sims on a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter (to which Farley then pleaded guilty). A white judge, Wallace Gibson, suspended the boys' sentences and gave them two years' probation--scolding them for their "lapse"--which made Lorene Ware "break down in the courtroom crying and hollering," recalls Melvin. Says James: "You could get more time back then for killing a good hunting dog."
September 22, 2003
"If you're going to blame anyone for getting those children killed in Birmingham, it's your Supreme Court."