When the four women whose stories are told in MRS. LIEUTENANT meet at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, in the spring of 1970, this is less than seven years since the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four girls ages 11 and 14. The novel’s one black and one white protagonist who grew up in the South come with the baggage of the violent racial history of the South.
The September issue of the ABA Journal had this brief article by George Hodak about the September 15, 1963, church bombing:
With more than 45 racially motivated bombings since the end of World War II, Birmingham, Ala., had earned the nickname “Bombingham.”
But none of the attacks was more haunting than the Sunday morning bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the oldest black congregation in the city.
Four girls—three age 14, one 11—were killed and more than 20 people injured in what was the deadliest act of terror during the civil rights era.
Justice came slowly for the families of the victims, in part because FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refused to let his agents share the results of their investigation with state or federal prosecutors.
Eventually, three members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted for the murders—the first in 1977. The last, Bobby Frank Cherry, was convicted in May 2002, almost 39 years after the attack.