Letters of 16th Street Baptist Church bomber on display in Birmi

Letters of 16th Street Baptist Church bomber on display in Birmingham

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Robert Chambliss (center, blue suit) in 1977 during his trial. Source: File WBRC video Robert Chambliss (center, blue suit) in 1977 during his trial. Source: File WBRC video
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

The personal letters of the man convicted for his involvement in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing are now part of the Birmingham Public Library's archive collection.

Chambliss was the first person to be convicted and it didn't happen until 1977, 13 years after the bombing that killed Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair.

The two themes that archivists say run through Chambliss' letters are denial of responsibility and the desire to regain his freedom.

The letters came back to Birmingham after the FBI called in 2010 saying they were purging old files, including the letters. Chambliss wrote more than 50 to his wife, niece and his attorney.

"The thing that's most striking to me is how very ordinary these guys are. They're vicious racists. They were people who were willing ot act on that, even to the point of killing people. There's nothing outstanding about them," Jim Baggett with the Birmingham Public Library said.

"He doesn't talk about the bombing much. He says other people did it. His focus is clearly on trying to get out of prison," Baggett said.

Darlene Millender writes a local history blog, The Birmingham Buff, and was one of the first to see the letters. She says she was particularly struck by one letter Chambliss wrote to his niece.

"He wanted her to call them or write them to let them know that he wasn't the one who committed the bombing, that he was actually an innocent man," Millender said.

The letters will be on display for the public Wednesday, Nov. 14, which marks the 35th anniversary of Chambliss' trial. They can be viewed at the Linn-Henly Research Library across from the Birmingham Public library location downtown. They are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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