Two former members of the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist group, have been charged with murdering four black girls, aged between 11 and 14, in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Announcing the arrests on May 17, law enforcement officials did not say what new or specific information had led them to arrest Thomas Blanton Jr., 61, of Birmingham, and Bobby Frank Cherry, 69, of Mabank, Texas, on charges of murder. However, the media reported that Cherry's granddaughter and ex-wife had said that Cherry talked openly of his participation in the bombing. Both men have denied the charges. Both have long been suspects in investigations of the bombing on September 15, 1963, that shocked the United States and proved a pivotal event in the struggle for civil rights for black Americans.The girls killed in the explosion-11-year-old Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, all aged 14-were preparing for Sunday services at the 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb planted outside the church exploded, crushing them beneath a wall.At the time Birmingham was known as one of the most racist cities in the US, and the bombing followed demonstrations earlier that year by civil rights advocates-led by Martin Luther King Jr.-that the authorities tried to crush with police fire hoses and dogs."In numbers of people killed at a single stroke, the 16th Street bombing was the most heinous crime of the civil rights era," The New York Times said in an editorial on May 18. "It was a crime that helped bring white Alabama to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called an accord with its conscience."President Bill Clinton declared in a statement on May 18: "The terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church ...

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