November 17, 1951
September 15, 1963
Age at Death:
Denise McNair was a child, daughter and student. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1951, she was the eldest child of Chris and Maxine McNair. She attended Center Elementary School where future United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was one of her best friends. She enjoyed playing with dolls, baseball and being a member of The Brownies. She was known for raising money for muscular dystrophy by reading poetry, putting on plays and dancing for people in her neighborhood. She was also a devout member of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was a prominent rallying place for members of the Civil Rights Movement and school integration in Birmingham. Black activists often organized demonstrations for the end of racial segregation at the church. On the date of McNair's death, four members of the Ku Klux Klan placed approximately twenty sticks of dynamite in the basement of the church under a women's restroom. At around 10:20 A.M., the dynamite detonated, killing McNair and three other young girls. The explosion was one of three in 11 days in the aftermath of a federal order to integrate schools in Alabama.
Was justice served?
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, Black protestors gathered at the church. Alabama's governor ordered police to break up the crowd. Two Black men were killed in the process: one by the police and another by a racist mob. A member of the Ku Klux Klan was acquitted in 1963 of a charge of murder and sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay a $100 fine for charges related to the purchase of 122 sticks of dynamite. Subsequently, an FBI investigation revealed the involvement of three men in the attack, but the FBI chairman blocked their prosecution before ending the investigation in 1968. In 1977, Alabama's Attorney General reopened the case. A jury convicted the first member of the group of Klansmen with murder and sentenced him to life in prison. The second member of the group died in 1994 without facing charges. In 2000, the remaining two men were charged with four counts of murder each. One of the men was sentenced to life in prison in 2000. The other was sentenced to life in prison in 2002.