Maxine McNair, last living parent of child killed in 1963 bombing, dies

Maxine McNair, 93, was the mother of Carol Denise McNair, who, at 11, was the youngest of the four girls Klansmen killed.

The last parent to lose a child in the infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing died Sunday. 

Maxine McNair. 93, was the mother of Carol Denise McNair, who, at 11 years old, was the youngest of the four girls killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed 16th Street Baptist Church. Addie Mae Collins, Carole Rosamond Robertson and Cynthia Dionne Wesley, each of them 14, were also killed in the deadliest single attack of America’s civil rights movement.

This 2013 photo shows filmmaker Spike Lee (left) greeting Maxine McNair (right) and Jewell Chris McNair (center), the parents of Denise McNair, the 11-year-old Black girl killed in an Alabama church bombing, at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP, File)

No one was convicted in the church bombing case until 1977 when Robert Chambliss was convicted of first-degree murder of the young McNair. 

In the early 2000s, Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr. and Bobby Cherry were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the bombing. All three men died in prison. Another Klansman suspected in the crime, Herman Cash, died in 1994 at 75 and was never charged for his involvement. 

In 2013, then-President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the four girls with the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony that Mrs. McNair attended. 

In a press release, the McNair family said their matriarch dedicated herself to changing lives through education, per NBC News.

“Mrs. McNair was an amazing wife and mother and as a teacher of 33 years in the Birmingham public school system imparted knowledge in the lives of hundreds,” the family’s statement said. “We are going to miss her laughter and her humor. The family would appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers.”

Jewell Christopher McNair, the McNair family patriarch, died at the age of 93 in 2019. He led a life of public service as one of the first Black members of the Alabama Legislature since Reconstruction. He was also a Jefferson County commissioner. 

The story of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was captured in a 1997 documentary by Spike Lee called 4 Little Girls. In the film, Lee used interviews with the kin and friends of the slain girls, as well as government officials, civil rights activists and archival footage to tell their life stories, as well as provide a greater historical and political context of the times, per New York magazine. 

The film was added to the National Film Registry in 2017 for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” 

“The Birmingham bombing holds a special place in civil rights history,” Kevin Sack wrote in 2000 in The New York Times, “because of the randomness of its violence, the sacredness of its target and the innocence of its victims.”

Have you subscribed to theGrio podcasts “Dear Culture” or “Acting Up?” Download our newest episodes now!
TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Download today!