A man's job

May 16, 2001 at 12:00 am

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present.

On Tuesday, May 1, Thomas Blanton Jr. was finally convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the part he played in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., church. The blast resulted in the murder of four young black girls — 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins. Twenty others were injured.

Blanton, 62, was the second person to be convicted of the crime. Robert “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, the alleged ringleader, was convicted of the bombing in 1977. Chambliss died in prison eight years later while serving a life sentence for murder.

A former Ku Klux Klansman, Blanton is filing an appeal based on a number of issues, one of them being that there were no white men on the jury that convicted him. You’ll note I said that there were no white men on the jury, as opposed to saying there were no white people. The jury panel consisted of eight white women, three black women and one black man.

You know, back in the good old days it used to be that one didn’t have to be a white male to be considered white enough to properly serve the race. White women may have had their problems with sexism and all that, but their commitment to the cause of racial superiority wasn’t usually questioned just because of their gender. If you’ve ever seen pictures of lynchings, then you’ve seen that white women and children participated in the perverse festivities right alongside their white men, smiling into the cameras, waving, and generally enjoying a fine day out with the family.

In other words, those whites who were in favor of the social order of the time were pretty much all in it together, be they male or female. So what happened? How is it that a guy like Blanton suddenly feels as if he can no longer trust the judgment of white womenfolk? Why, in 2001, does Blanton feel that only white men can be trusted to uphold the banner of racism and oppression? Personally, I think white guys ought to consider filing a protest letting it be known that just because they’re white and happen to be guys doesn’t mean they also happen to be complete idiots and want to be associated with someone like Blanton. But, hey, that’s just me.

And, to tell the truth, although white women were by no means blameless and were often openly complicit in upholding the racist system of not that long ago, it was primarily the men who built racism into an institution because women weren’t even allowed to touch the building blocks. Using this reasoning, maybe it’s not quite so hard to understand why Blanton figures that if he only could have pleaded his case to some fellow white males, his true peers, then he would have stood a much better chance of getting off the hook. After all, white men understand one another, right? Nothing against white womanhood, you understand, but to Blanton and other cave dwellers, women are the weaker sex and can’t truly be trusted in a tight bind like the one he finds himself in right about now. Maybe this really was a job for white men.

According to an FBI memorandum given to director J. Edgar Hoover in May of 1965, it was four white men — former Ku Klux Klansmen Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash and Blanton — who considered themselves brave enough to blow up the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963 and murder four little girls. Hoover being Hoover, he decided to close the so-called “investigation” in 1968 without filing any charges. In 1980 a Justice Department report concluded that Hoover had blocked prosecution of the Klansmen in 1965.

Obviously this was the type of job that only men could handle. Men on the ground level to do the deed, and men at the highest levels to cover it up.

Women, being the poor, frail, helpless, emotional creatures that they are, probably would have botched the whole thing up. If they’re not willing to start wars and blow up thousands of people in the name of freedom and democracy then how suited could women possibly be for killing four black children in a church? Think about it: After Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma, killing 168, his explanation for the resulting deaths of children who were killed in the blast was to say that they were nothing more than “collateral damage.” Can you imagine a woman saying something like that? Of course not. You gotta have balls to kill children and feel no remorse.

Face it: If you want a tough, bloody job done right, you gotta call in the men, pal. Bring on the heavy artillery.

But before I go any further down this path, fun as it might be, let me back up for a second. I said earlier on that the absence of any white male jurors is only one of the listed reasons why Blanton filed his appeal last Thursday. One of the other reasons is that he’s rather upset because the jury got a chance to hear secretly recorded FBI audio tapes where Blanton kind of, well, you know, said that he did it. Blanton and his lawyer both feel that if the jury had been denied the opportunity to hear the truth ... whoops, sorry, I mean the tapes ... then he would have fared better. They’re probably right about that since the jurors later said that what they’d heard on those tapes was crucial to helping them reach their decision.

On one four-minute tape, which was recorded in Blanton’s kitchen in 1964, Blanton could be overheard talking with his wife about going to a meeting under a bridge where “we planned the bomb.” On another tape he told FBI informant Mitchell Burns that he wouldn’t be caught “when I bomb my next church.” Gee, I guess I can see why he didn’t want anybody to hear those tapes. Tough break.

But, hey, Tom’s a man. He can handle it.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]