Eighty seconds. That’s how long it took last week for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole to discuss and deny the possible parole of Thomas Blanton Jr., the last surviving member of a group of Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for a 1963 Birmingham, Ala. church bombing that killed four teenage black girls.
Eighty years. That’s the mark retired AP reporter Jim Purks will reach later this month . In the wake of the parole hearing, Montgomery Advertiser columnist Alvin Benn touched base with Purks to revisit the latter’s Sept. 15, 1963 item about the church bombing devastation and aftermath. The article is considered a journalistic bellwether of the U.S. Civil Rights era:
Purks wasn’t a veteran journalist by any means that Sunday morning, but the article he wrote about reaction to the bombing reached an audience that stretched around the world.
It captured the moment as few experienced journalists could have matched, and Jim was floored by the reaction of his top editors in New York.
“Nice job by Purks,” it read. Only four words, but they conveyed the appreciation of those familiar with outstanding writing under deadline pressures.
What makes Benn’s column especially memorable is that he and Purks are longtime friends. It started with Benn, as a young military man and army journalist, ripping Purks’ piece off the teletype machine while stationed in Okinawa. Once back in the U.S., he worked for UPI in Alabama, competing with Purks for the same scoops.
Up until 2013, Purks worked as an ordained deacon at a church in Albany, Ga. Benn’s column ends with a scan of the original 1963 AP article. At the time, many residents, because of the ongoing civil strife and acts of violence, referred to their hometown as “BOMBingham.”