Bill Baxley

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Bill Baxley
24th Lieutenant Governor of Alabama
In office
January 17, 1983 – January 19, 1987
GovernorGeorge Wallace
Preceded byGeorge McMillan
Succeeded byJim Folsom, Jr.
41st Attorney General of Alabama
In office
GovernorGeorge Wallace
Preceded byMacDonald Gallion
Succeeded byCharles Graddick
District Attorney Houston County
In office
Personal details
William Joseph Baxley II

(1941-06-27) June 27, 1941 (age 78)
Dothan, Houston County, Alabama, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)(1) Lucy Baxley
(2) Marie Prat Baxley
ResidenceBirmingham, Alabama
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/serviceAlabama Army National Guard
Years of service1962-2001
RankUS-O6 insignia.svgColonel

William Joseph Baxley II (born June 27, 1941), is an American Democratic politician and attorney from Dothan, Alabama.

In 1964, Baxley graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa. Having previously served as district attorney in Houston County, he was elected to the first of two consecutive terms as Attorney General of Alabama in 1970, and 1974 respectively, holding the post from 1971 to 1979. At the age of twenty-eight, he won the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 1970, in an upset over incumbent McDonald Gallion. Baxley, incorrectly, was perceived as the candidate closer politically to George Wallace, an impression he did not dispute throughout the election contest. At the time of his swearing-in, he was the youngest person in U.S. history to hold a state attorney generalship. At the end of his attorney generalship, he lost the 1978 Democratic primary for governor in an upset contest. Although widely expected to seek the post again in 1982, after former governor George C. Wallace entered the contest, Baxley said he would not run against him and sought the office of lieutenant governor, to which he was elected. From 1983 to 1987, he served a single term as the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Alabama. He ran unsuccessfully in the primary for governor in 1986. During his time as state attorney general, Baxley aggressively prosecuted industrial polluters, strip miners, and corrupt elected officials. He appointed the state's first African-American assistant attorney general, Myron Thompson, who later became a U.S. District Judge.

Baxley reopened the cold case of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. In a letter, the Ku Klux Klan threatened him, comparing him to John F. Kennedy, and called him an "honorary nigger." Baxley responded, on official state letterhead: "My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is—kiss my ass."[1][2][3]

Church bombing case[edit]

As Alabama Attorney General, Baxley became known in 1977 for his case against a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan in his prosecution of Robert Chambliss for the cold case of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in September 1963.

"We know who did it," Alabama Attorney General Baxley said Wednesday as he confirmed that he has reopened the investigation of a church bombing that killed four young black girls in Birmingham in 1963. Baxley said in an interview with Birmingham radio station that the list of suspects had been narrowed down, but he declined to predict if or when arrests would be made. He said premature published reports about the investigation might have hurt. "There are some people in Jefferson County who ought to be pretty nervous right now," Baxley said in an earlier telephone interview.[citation needed]

The Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, dynamite blast at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church occurred during the time of racial demonstrations in the city for integration and voting rights, led by the late Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Twenty-three other people in the church were hurt and debris was scattered for blocks. Baxley confirmed that he had talked to [undercover FBI agent Gary] Rowe,[4] and he was cooperative. Baxley said, "But we were working on this thing long before that. We had a lot of stuff already. Rowe was just another person we interviewed." He said Rowe didn't give him a list of names as such.

Baxley succeeded in gaining a guilty verdict by the jury in Chambliss's trial. The families of the four girls who were killed felt that some justice had been achieved. In the early 21st century, when two more suspected conspirators were tried, Baxley was dismayed to learn that the FBI had secretly obtained audio tapes in which defendants had implicated themselves, which had never been offered to him for his own prosecution.

Runs for governor[edit]

In 1978, Baxley, then the sitting attorney general, ran to succeed the term-limited George Wallace as governor of Alabama. Baxley lost the Democratic primary to political newcomer Fob James, who defeated Republican nominee Guy Hunt of Cullman. Baxley's campaign had highlighted the fact that James had been a Republican and returned to the Democratic Party to pursue his candidacy. Baxley was endorsed by University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant.

In 1986, the Democratic primary for the gubernatorial race resulted in then Attorney General Charles Graddick of Mobile in a runoff with Baxley, then the lieutenant governor. After Graddick won the run-off election by a few thousand votes, but Baxley appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. It ruled that Graddick had violated primary regulations by encouraging Republicans to "cross over" and vote as Democrats. The court told the Democratic Party to hold another election, or to affirm Baxley as the nominee. The party confirmed Baxley as its candidate.

In a sign of changing affiliations among white conservatives, many white voters in Alabama voted for Guy Hunt, the GOP nominee. Hunt won the election by a large margin, resulting in Alabama having its first Republican governor since Reconstruction. The demographics of the party loyalists had switched over the decades, with conservative whites moving to the Republican Party and African Americans supporting Democratic Party candidates following passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s that enforced their constitutional rights.

Personal life[edit]

In 1962, Baxley joined in the Alabama Army National Guard, where he began his career as an enlisted clerk. He retired as a colonel on May 29, 2001 (he had turned down the position of General), JAG Corps.

In 1974, Baxley married Lucy Mae Bruner (1937-2016). She also was politically active, and was elected as Alabama lieutenant governor in 2002, serving from 2003 to 2007. They had divorced in 1987.[5] Baxley was a strong supporter of his ex-wife's campaign.

In 1990, Baxley married Marie (Prat) Baxley, a reporter who had covered his campaign.[5][6][7]

In 1979, Baxley founded the firm known today as Baxley, Dillard,[8] McKnight & James in Birmingham. He has a practice there as an attorney. He primarily represents large business corporations, yet also continues to represent individuals of modest means. Those efforts have earned him the distinction of being selected as a fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.[citation needed]


  1. ^ (image of Baxley's letter)
  2. ^ Sikora, Frank (1991). Until justice rolls down: the Birmingham church bombing case. U of Alabama P. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-8173-0520-8.
  3. ^ Sims, Patsy (1996). The Klan. Lexington: UP of Kentucky. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-8131-0887-2.
  4. ^ Randall, Kate (May 5, 2001). "Former Klansman convicted in deadly 1963 bombing of Birmingham, Alabama church". Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Mike Hubbard (28 May 2012). Storming the State House: The Campaign That Liberated Alabama from 136 Years of Democrat Rule. NewSouth Books. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-1-60306-117-9.
  6. ^ Allen Tullos (2011). Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie. University of Georgia Press. pp. 303–. ISBN 978-0-8203-3049-5.
  7. ^ Frank Sikora (2005). Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-5268-4.
  8. ^

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
MacDonald Gallion
Attorney General of Alabama
Succeeded by
Charles A. Graddick
Political offices
Preceded by
George McMillan
Lieutenant Governor of Alabama
Succeeded by
Jim Folsom, Jr.