Johnny Robinson lived in Birmingham, Alabama, where a bomb placed at the 16th Street Baptist Church killed four African-American girls on September 15, 1963. Robinson joined a group that threw rocks at segregationists after the attack, then was shot and killed by a police officer. Though his death was overlooked for years, Robinson is now recognized as being part of the Civil Rights Movement.
Born circa 1947, Johnny Robinson Jr.'s childhood was marked by violence when his father was murdered, which left his mother on her own with three children. Johnny Robinson lived in Birmingham, Alabama, which had its own dangers. The city had experienced 50 racially targeted bombings since 1945, as well as other confrontations between segregationists and supporters of the Civil Rights Movement.
Day of Violence
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, Ku Klux Klan members planted a bomb at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, an African-American place of worship that was a gathering place for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. When the explosives went off at 10:22 that morning, four little girls were killed: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.
As news of the tragedy spread through Birmingham—further igniting racial tensions—Robinson met some friends at a gas station. There, the African-American teenagers were taunted by whites who shouted racial slurs and threw bottles as they drove by. Robinson's group fought back by throwing rocks at a car bearing the Confederate flag. Then a police car arrived at the scene.
In the back of the police car, holding a shotgun, was Officer Jack Parker. As Robinson and others ran away, Parker fired his gun, hitting 16-year-old Robinson in the back. Robinson died before reaching the hospital. It was still September 15, 1963, just hours after the bombing.
Parker, a 48-year-old white officer who had publicly opposed integrating the Birmingham police force, said that his gun had gone off accidentally. Though his fellow officers supported Parker, other witnesses disputed his account, claiming to have heard two shots. Two grand juries opted not to charge Parker for Robinson's death.
Robinson's mother was devastated by the loss of her son, and later spent time in a psychiatric hospital. Robinson's brother and sister learned not to speak of their brother, and were given very few details about his death. That changed when Robinson's murder, along with other cold cases from the civil rights era, was investigated by the FBI in 2009. However, Parker's 1977 death prevented any legal case from going forward.
In the months and years after September 15, 1963, the deaths of the four girls received more attention than Robinson's killing, or that of Virgil Ware, another African-American boy who was murdered in Birmingham that day. However, Robinson eventually began to receive more recognition as being part of the fight for civil rights. In 2013, fifty years after the bombing, he was inducted into Birmingham's Gallery of Distinguished Citizens.
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