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Funeral for Chris McNair set on Friday, May 17

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The Birmingham Times

The funeral for Jewell Christopher (Chris) McNair will be held Friday, May 17 at 11 a.m. in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham, the same place where his daughter, Denise and three other girls were killed in a bombing in 1963.

The church is located at 1530 Sixth Avenue North.

Mr. McNair, a former state legislator and former Jefferson County Commissioner, died on May 8. He was 93.

Davenport & Harris Funeral Home is handling arrangements. There will be a visitation on Thursday, May 16 at the funeral home in the chapel from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

The burial is at Elmwood Cemetery. 

Mr. McNair 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.

“What I hope they will remember him for is not his transgressions, not his failings. What I hope they’ll remember Chris for is someone who stayed in Birmingham, despite an unimaginable loss, in a most horrific of circumstances, at a time when he could have easily picked up and left Birmingham, Alabama,” said Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama. “He and Maxine stayed behind to build a better community, to build a better state, to build a better Birmingham.”

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.