In 1970, shortly after being elected Attorney General of Alabama, 29-year-old Bill Baxley reopened the 16th Street Church bombing case — a racially motivated act of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of four African-American girls in 1963 and a fruitless investigation, and which marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Baxley's unwavering commitment to the case attracted much hostility, particularly from local Klansmen, and in 1976 he received a threatening letter of protest from white supremacist Edward R. Fields — founder of the "National States' Rights Party" and "Grand Dragon" of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — in which he was accused of reopening the case for tactical reasons.
Bill Baxley's famously succinct reply, which was typed on his official letterhead, can be seen below. The next year, a member of the United Klans of America named Robert Chambliss was found guilty of the murders and remained in prison until his death in 1985. Throughout the trial, a young law student named Doug Jones could be found in the gallery, intently watching the case having skipped his classes. 25 years later, then a US Attorney, Jones succesfully prosecuted the last two Klansmen involved in the bombing.
Full transcript follows. This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF ALABAMA
February 28, 1976
"Dr." Edward R. Fields
National States Rights Party
P. O. Box 1211
Marietta, Georgia 30061
Dear "Dr." Fields:
My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is – kiss my ass.