Remembering Virgil Ware

Virgil Ware. Source: Family photo/WBRC video
Virgil Ware. Source: Family photo/WBRC video
Members of the Ware family attend an event honoring victims of the 1963 violence. Source: WBRC video
Members of the Ware family attend an event honoring victims of the 1963 violence. Source: WBRC video

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The same day Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, two other children died in seperate events.

Sixteen-year-old Johnny Robinson was killed by a blast from a police officer's shotgun in north Birmingham and in Pratt City 13-year-old Virgil Ware was gunned down while riding a bicycle with his brother.

FOX5 News Anchor Sarah Verser spoke with Virgil's family ahead of the anniversary of his death.

"We was coming from Docena on a bike...[Virgil] was on the handle bars and I was peddling him. Two white boys was coming down the road and as they got closer to us they shot twice and both of them hit my brother," James Ware, Jr. said.

He was the oldest of the brothers at 16 in 1963 and Virgil was the baby.

"When he fell off naturally he staggered and said, 'I'm shot,' and I said, 'No you ain't, boy, get up Virgil,'" James said.

Fifty years later, the memories of what happened on that road the afternoon of Sept. 15, 1963 still haunt the Ware family.

"Guest that's why I don't talk about Virgil that much because it brings tears to my eyes," James said.

Virgil was an "A" student who dreamed of becoming a lawyer. That afternoon around 3 p.m. the two boys had no idea what had happened at the 16th Street Baptist Church earlier that morning.

James was carrying Virgil on the handlebars of his bicycle to their uncle's. The boys were trying to find Virgil a bicycle of his own so he could join a paper route. When they turned up empty-handed, the  boys headed ome.

Melvin Ware, the middle brother, says he could have lost both brothers that day.

"There were two shots. One shot was meant for Virgil and the other was meant for James. One shot was here at the tip end of Virgil's heart, the other hit Virgil in the cheek which was meant for him," Melvin said.

Sixteen-year-old Larry Joe Sims was the one who fired the deadly shots using Michael Farley's gun. Neither of the young men served any prison time. They both received probation.

"They didn't get a day in jail no more than when they picked them up," James said.

But James somehow blamed himself and rarely spoke publicly about Virgil's death. FOX6 asked James if he hates the people who shot and killed his brother.

"No I don't now. I was angry when I was young seeing my brother in the casket. Man, I was mad but not now. I let the Lord take care of it and it's worked for me so far," James said.

The Ware family attended a program at Barrett Elementary School during which the students recounted Virgil's story. James says the event gives him hope.

"So never forget where we come from and where we are now and what a hard struggle it was," James said.

Years later, both Sims and Farley apologized to the Ware family and asked for their forgiveness. James Ware, Sr. passed away a little over a week ago.

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