Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and one of three men convicted of murdering four Black girls in Alabama by bombing a church in 1963, has died in prison at 84 years old.
Blanton was serving a life sentence and died of natural causes on Friday, according to a report from CNN.
“Although his passing will never fully take away the pain or restore the loss of life, I pray on behalf of the loved ones of all involved that our entire state can continue taking steps forward to create a better Alabama for future generations,” said Alabama Governor Kay Ivey in a statement on the last killer’s death.
Blanton spent 38 years free after taking part in the murder of the four girls, and was only convicted in 2001 after a lengthy crusade by then U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Doug Jones.
“No matter what I do in my life, I will always be most proud of achieving justice for those four young girls,” Jones, now a member of the U.S. Senate for Alabama, posted on Twitter on Friday. “Blanton never atoned for his sins but his passing at this moment seems fitting.”
Blanton’s fellow KKK members Robert Edward Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry and Herman Frank Cash, were all implicated in the 1963 church bombing, according to CNN. Chambliss died in prison in 1978 and Cherry did as well in 2004. Cash died in 1993, having never been convicted for his role in taking the lives of the four girls.
I have a confession to make.
I’d never read the full story about what happened to Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that Sunday morning.
I knew they were little girls—little Black girls whose lives were stolen from them by evil men, in a fiery death they did not deserve, in a place of sanctuary Black people created in a country determined to see them subjugated.
But I couldn’t make myself find out more. Until today, when I read the full story of what happened to those children, one as young as 11 years old, in order to contextualize the death of this man who bombed them in a church lounge they often used to change into choir robes.
I have to say that reporting on Blanton dying at a ripe old age after escaping justice for decades does not give me hope.
I just feel kinda hollow.