1958 Temple bombing column still relevant
Then-Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield and Rabbi Jacob Rothschild sift through the rubble hours after The Temple was bombed on Oct. 12,1958. Civil rights leaders called the dynamiting “stupid, vicious, senseless.” AJC ARCHIVES
Editor’s note: The following column by Ralph McGill, editor of The Atlanta Constitution, was published in Oct. 13, 1958, the day after the bombing of The Temple synagogue on Peachtree Street. McGill’s opinion column is getting new attention in the aftermath of the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.

Dynamite in great quantity Sunday ripped a beautiful Temple of worship in Atlanta. It followed hard on the heels of a like destruction of a handsome high school at Clinton, Tenn.

The same rabid, mad-dog minds were, without question, behind both. They also are the source of previous bombings in Florida, Alabama and South Carolina. The school house and the church are the targets of diseased, hate-filled minds.

Let us face the facts.

This is a harvest. It is the crop of things sown.

It is the harvest of defiance of courts and the encouragement of citizens to defy law on the part of many Southern politicians. It will be the acme of irony, for example, if any one of four or five Southern governors deplore this bombing. It will be grimly humorous if certain state attorneys general issue statements of regret. And it will be quite a job for some editors, columnists and commentators, who have been saying that our courts have no jurisdiction and that the people should refuse to accept their authority now to deplore.

It is not possible to preach lawlessness and restrict it.

To be sure, none said go bomb a Jewish temple or a school.

Gates opened

But let it be understood that when leadership in high places in any degree fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands.

There will be, to be sure, the customary act of the careful drawing aside of skirts on the part of those in high places.

“How awful,” they will exclaim. “How terrible. Some thing must be done.”

But the record stands. The extremists of the citizens’ councils, the political leaders who in terms violent and inflammatory have repudiated their oaths and stood against due process of law have helped unloose this flood of hate and bombing.

This, too, is a harvest of those so-called Christian ministers who have chosen to preach hate instead of compassion. Let them now find pious words and raise their hands in deploring the bombing of a synagogue.

You do not preach and encourage hatred for the Negro and hope to restrict it to that field. It is an old, old story. It is one repeated over and over again in history. When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.

Hate and lawlessness by those who lead release the yellow rats and encourage the crazed and neurotic who print and distribute the hate pamphlets, who shrieked that Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew; who denounce the Supreme Court as being Communist and controlled by Jewish influences.

The harvest This series of bombings is the harvest, too, of something else.

One of those connected with the bombing telephoned a news service early Sunday morning to say the job would be done. It was to be committed, he said, by the Confederate Underground.

The Confederacy and the men who led it are revered by millions. Its leaders returned to the Union and urged that the future be committed to building a stronger America. This was particularly true of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Time after time he urged his students at Washington University to forget the War Between the States and to help build a greater and stronger union.

But for too many years now we have seen the Confederate flag and the emotions of that great war become the property of men not fit to tie the shoes of those who fought for it. Some of these have been merely childish and immature. Others have perverted and commercialized the flag by making the Stars and Bars, and the Confederacy itself, a symbol of hate and bombings.

For a long time now it has been needful for all Americans to stand up and be counted on the side of law and the due process of law - even when to do so goes against personal beliefs and emotions. It is late. But there is yet time.


Ralph McGill was a longtime editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution. His front-page daily opinion column often touched on civil rights. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1 959 for editorial writing, including his column, “A Church, A School,’’ about The Temple bombing.

The bombing of The Temple synagogue, which has been called the most violent episode of the civil rights era in Atlanta, happened before dawn on Sunday, Oct. 12,1958. The building was not occupied when the dynamite blast ripped a gaping hole in a side wall, damaging an office and several classrooms. Debris was found in the sanctuary.

After an investigation by state and federal authorities, five men with connections to racist and anti-Semitic organizations were charged with the bombing. But only one of them ever went to trial.

In the first of two trials in December 1 958, the jury could not reach a verdict; in the second, the jurors returned a not-guilty verdict. The case remains unsolved.