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Chris McNair, father of girl killed in church bombing, dies at 93

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The Birmingham Times

Jewell Christopher (Chris) McNair, the father of one of the four young girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, has died. He was 93.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of former state legislator and Jefferson County Commissioner Chris McNair,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin in a statement late Wednesday.

“Mr. McNair and his family are forever tied to our country’s civil-rights legacy. When he tragically lost his daughter Denise in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, his courage and fortitude fueled our march for peace. He was the consummate family man, showcasing an unconditional love for humanity that paved the way for social justice in Birmingham and in our nation.”

Mr. McNair is a former state legislator and former Jefferson County Commissioner.

He was elected to the Jefferson County Commission in 1986 and served until 2001. During his time in office, the federal investigation into the 1963 bombing was reopened, and two members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted of the murders. Two others who had passed away were named as co-conspirators.

In 2006, Mr. McNair was convicted on 11 counts of bribery and conspiracy involving contractors for the sewer project. He pleaded guilty to a twelfth count of conspiracy in February 2007. In September, 2007 he was sentenced to five years of prison and ordered to pay $851,927 in restitution. After his appeals failed, Mr. McNair reported to federal prison in Marion, Illinois on June 6, 2011.

From there he was transferred to the Federal Medical Center at Rochester, Minnesota. He had been scheduled for release on October 13, 2015, but was released early, on August 29, 2013 under a Federal Bureau of Prisons policy to release elderly or sick inmates convicted of non-violent offenses after they serve a majority of their sentence. He was freed in time to participate in events honoring the 50th anniversary of the bombing that killed his daughter.

Mr. McNair was born in the tiny town of Fordyce, Arkansas. He met his future wife Maxine Pippen when both were attending college at the Tuskegee Institute in 1945. Chris served in the Army in the waning days of World War II, and both graduated in 1949. They married the following year, got pregnant and moved closer to her mother’s home in Birmingham. Their oldest daughter Carol Denise was born in 1951. She attended Center Street Elementary School where her mother taught. One of her early playmates was Condoleezza Rice, the daughter of a local pastor and a gifted pianist. Rice would later become Secretary of State during President George W. Bush’s administration.