On the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing, we recognize Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware, two Black boys who have been largely forgotten as victims of the attack.
Ware and Robinson died on September 15, 1963 after four girls —14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carol Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair — were killed in the Ku Klux Klan bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. For decades, only the four girls received national attention.
“For so long, the four little girls got all the recognition, and they forgot about the two little boys,” James Ware, Ware’s older brother, told The Birmingham News in 2013.
But aside from the four, Robinson, 16, and Ware, 14, were the only people who died in the aftermath of the bombing, NBC News reports.
Robinson was with his friends when a group of white people drove past them waving Confederate flags and spewing racial slurs. Police arrived at the scene after Robinson and his friends allegedly threw rocks at a car with a Confederate flag.
“The crowd was running away and Mr. Robinson had his back [turned] as he was running away,” FBI agent Dana Gillis told NPR in 2010. “And the shot hit him in the back.”
Local and federal grand juries declined to bring charges against Jack Parker, the white officer who killed him.
Ware was riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bike when a white boy told his friend to fire a shot to “scare” them. Larry Sims said in 2003 that he thought he was shooting at the ground when he shot Ware in the chest and face.
Sims was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, and Michael Farley, his friend, pleaded guilty to the same charge. A judge gave them two years of probation.
DeJuana Thompson, the president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, told NBC News that Ware and Robinson are well-known in the city but not nationally.
“While the bombing happened that morning, their deaths that afternoon were the residual effects of the terror. Those individuals who exacted that terror upon Virgil and Johnny, they were emboldened by what happened that day,” Thompson said.