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Chris McNair (1926–2019), father of 1963 Birmingham bombing victim

by Linnea Crowther

Chris McNair was the father of Denise McNair, one of the four young girls killed when KKK members bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. McNair, a photographer, went on to serve in the Alabama House of Representatives, elected in 1973 as one of the state’s first African-American congressmen since Reconstruction. He later served on the Jefferson County Commission. In 2006, he was found guilty of bribery and conspiracy and served two years in prison. He was released just before the 50th anniversary of the church bombing.

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Died: May 8, 2019 (Who else died on May 8?)


Details of death: Died at home at the age of 93.

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Fighting for justice: The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing was a watershed moment in the Civil Rights Movement, galvanizing new attention to the movement and helping inspire the Civil Rights Act of 1964. McNair’s testimony in a later court case against one of the bombers led to the first conviction. The four bombers were acquitted in 1963, but when a new state attorney general reopened the case more than a decade later, McNair testified and helped solidify the case against Robert Chambliss. Two of the other three bombers were convicted in 2001 and 2002.

McNair on forgiveness: “I don’t say that I have forgiven. I have arisen with it. You know, it’s pretty hard to put yourself in the position, seeing the first trial wasn’t until 14 years after the bombing. And then later on, after probably thirty-six or seven or eight years after the bombing, two other people got tried. So, I think that at this point the courts have done what they needed to do. But that was a long time coming.” —From a 2008 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered

What people said about him: “Mr. McNair and his family are forever tied to our country’s civil-rights legacy. When he tragically lost his daughter Denise in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, his courage and fortitude fueled our march for peace. He was the consummate family man, showcasing an unconditional love for humanity that paved the way for social justice in Birmingham and in our nation.” —Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin

“When I hope they will remember him for is not his transgressions, not his failings. What I hope they’ll remember Chris for is someone who stayed in Birmingham, despite an unimaginable loss, in a most horrific of circumstances, at a time when he could have easily picked up and left Birmingham, Alabama. He and Maxine stayed behind to build a better community, to build a better state, to build a better Birmingham.” —U.S. Senator Doug Jones

Full obituary: Birmingham News

Related lives:

  • Rosa Parks (1913–2005), civil rights leader
  • Frederick D. Reese (1929–2018), civil rights activist led Selma’s “Courageous Eight”
  • Simeon Wright (1942–2017), cousin of Emmett Till who witnessed his kidnapping

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