A former U.S. attorney nominated by Bill Clinton chronicles his successful attempt to prosecute the last of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church bombers.
Jones has led a rather remarkable career. His most recent accomplishment was a victory in a special election that made him Alabama’s first Democratic Senator since 1992; he defeated Republican Roy Moore for Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat. Raised in the Jim Crow era of segregated Birmingham, the author was deeply influenced as a young college student by the model lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. More importantly, in 1977, he watched Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley work a legal miracle by securing a murder conviction against “Dynamite” Bob Chambliss, the Klansman who had eluded justice 14 years earlier for the bombing that killed four African-American girls. In this lively first-person account, written with Truman, Jones (b. 1954) walks us through his early life as a middle-class white boy who grew up mostly unaware of racial tensions in the Birmingham suburbs—until 1963, when white supremacists launched a campaign of terror against the civil rights protesters, especially the young people’s demonstrations at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The author was 9 when the horrendous bombing occurred. The subsequent FBI investigation went on for years and was thwarted at every turn, shut down in 1968 without any charges against the three prime suspects: Chambliss, Tommy Blanton, and Bobby Frank Cherry. As an up-and-coming federal prosecutor and defense attorney, Jones tied himself to the Democratic Party. Building on what he had witnessed Baxley achieve, he decided it was time to strike at Blanton when he was nominated U.S. Attorney in 1997. The bulk of this compelling account focuses on that extraordinary trial and 2001 conviction.
A useful firsthand account of a series of civil rights landmarks, with some additional analysis of our current political climate.