1958 Bethel Baptist Church bombing

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The 1958 Bethel Baptist Church bombing was a racially motivated terrorist attack against Civil Rights Movement leader Fred Shuttlesworth's Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville on June 29, 1958. The bombing was the second in a string of three bomb attacks targeting the church.

The bomb used consisted of 16 sticks of dynamite placed into a white 5-gallon paint bucket and left beside the church. Restaurant worker Laverne McWilliams noticed the smoking article on her way home from work. Thinking it was a fire, she alerted the Civil Rights guards, led by Colonel Stone Johnson who were standing watch from the porch of the deacon's house across the street. Johnson and others located the bomb and carried it to the street before it exploded.

The shock wave from the explosion damaged windows and rattled cupboards for several blocks' radius. The church sustained minor damage as windows broke and light fixtures fell to the floor. A crater was left in the middle of 28th Avenue North.

J. B. Stoner, a virulent white supremacist demagogue, met with Birmingham Police Department detectives Tom Cook and G. L. Pattie before the bombing. The detectives expressed interest in contacting the men responsible for a string of bombings in the city and implied that they could provide financial support for future bombings in an effort to gain information. After the bombing, Stoner approached the two to claim credit for organizing the attack at Bethel and demanding a $2,000 payment. That evidence was ignored by police officials in Bull Connor's administration and by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover's command.

Stoner was eventually indicted in September 1977 by a Birmingham grand jury at the request of Attorney General of Alabama Bill Baxley. The charge was endangering life by placing a bomb near an occupied dwelling. Stoner fought extradition for three years, and was tried in May 1980. Cook and Johnson testified for the prosecution. The defense put forth the theory that church members had set the bomb themselves to attract sympathy and donations. The jury of 11 whites and one African American found Stoner guilty and Judge Charles Crowder give him a minimal 10-year sentence. After three years of appeals failed, Stoner jumped bail and went on the lam for 4 months. He eventually served 3½ years of his 10-year sentence at the St Clair Correctional Facility before being paroled in November 1986.

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