Everyone knows the tumultuous and troubled nature of Alabama’s civil rights struggles over the years. They were never more heated than in the 1960’s and 1970’s. With that backdrop, a young Alabama Attorney General decided to re-open the 16th Street Baptist church bombing in 1971and pursue the evil-doers. When singled out and threatened by the KKK for taking on this cause, here is how Attorney General Bill Baxley responded:
According to a Yellowhammer news report, not many people knew about the letter until it was released by the KKK. Given recent events in our country, this view of how to properly deal with hate is now back in the news.
Subsequent to this letter, Mr. Baxley prosecuted the first of the murderers. That trial also formed the impetus for a later U.S. Attorney, Doug Jones, to prosecute the remaining killers. My Next Lawyer Up podcast featuring Doug Jones can be heard here. Many years later, he told a journalist with NPR “I was angry at those type of people – yeah. I think that what they had done besides just to the families and those innocent little children and to the church, they had done harm to the state of Alabama that I loved and done harm to Birmingham and done harm to all good, decent citizens by being allowed to run and mistreat people like they were. So I had no use for them”.
I was recently able to spend some time speaking with Bill Baxley at his long-time law firm’s office in Mountain Brook. I found him to be engaging, thoughtful and quite humble. He has contributed a great deal to the State of Alabama and our country. Here is a little-known fact – he rose from an E-5 Sergeant to an 0-3 Captain within just a couple of drill periods with the Alabama National Guard where he ended up retiring as a Colonel. I told him that I wished I had joined his unit as a JAG after leaving active-duty!
Mr. Baxley has done so much for this state as attorney general, lieutenant governor, military officer and private attorney. In fact, I learned that he is even being honored with a roast. That is when you know you have really made a mark! I enjoyed spending time with Bill and think that you will enjoy hearing his story.