Exhibit held for 70th anniversary of Blackwood Brothers plane crash in Clanton

Published 2:49 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Seventy years since their plane crash shook the nation, an exhibit was held in Clanton to remember the Blackwood Brothers Quartet members that lost their lives in 1954.

The exhibit at Senior Connection in Clanton, The Blackwood Brothers Exhibit: A 70th Anniversary Commemoration of Tragedy and Triumph, showcased unique and rare photos of the plane crash that cut short two lives in one of the most iconic gospel music groups of all time.

The exhibit officially opened on June 29, and a presentation was held that included guest speakers and musical performances by the Blackwood Family of the group’s most beloved songs. The exhibit was made possible by Lynn Carter and Miriam Patterson in conjunction with The Friends of Alabama State Archives Fellowship.

“The City of Clanton just embraced us for this exhibit, and I cannot thank them enough for their support,” Carter said.

Those in the Blackwood family and those close to them who attended the exhibit opening included Ron, Shelly, R.W. Jr., Donna, Terry and Billy Blackwood, Andrea Blackwood Carter, Bill Lyles Jr. and Charles Yates.

“For a specific generation that grew up with the Blackwood Brothers, that was a very significant and emotional event for not only Clanton, but for Chilton County,” Billy Singleton, Clanton City Council member and longtime Chilton County resident, said. “I would asked people what they remembered about it, and it was almost like everyone had that moment frozen in their memories and they knew where they were when they heard the news.”

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet that formed in 1934 was slated to perform at the seventh annual Chilton County Peach Festival on June 30, 1954. The group arrived in Clanton, but of its two members, R.W. Blackwood, Sr. and Bill Lyles, Sr., wanted to take a test run in taking off in the group’s airplane. The two were joined by a third person in the place, Johnny Ogburn Jr.

The plane became hard to land on the runway, and on the second approach, went into a vertical climb before violently diving into the ground. Hundreds of Clanton residents in attendance witnessed the crash, including prominent figures like late Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver who gave their accounts of that day.

Singleton compared the Blackwood Brothers death in the gospel music community to the death of Buddy Holly in the rock and roll music community, and how the trauma from the event reached across the United States, and even internationally.

“This was an event for a specific generation that occurred here that they will never forget,” Singleton said. “There was such an outpour of community support … I think it is important that we remember those things, remember those events and remember those people that were involved. I never want us to forget those events and people that make us who we are.”

In June 2001, the Clanton Lions Club put a pavilion around the memorial that sits at the Clanton Airport to remember the accident and the victims. Hundreds of visitors to the memorial stop by from around the country every year to keep the memory of those alive, just like Cole and Carter have done with their 70th anniversary exhibit.

Now, in 2024, the Blackwood Brothers family are continuing their musical careers and the Blackwood Brothers Quartet is still going strong, and the Peach Festival notched the 77th installment in its history. While both parties carry on, the memories and victims from that day in 1954 still remain in their thoughts.

The exhibit at Senior Connection in Clanton is free to the public and will be available for viewing throughout the month of July.

More information and accounts about the Blackwood Brothers crash will be included in the upcoming Faces & Places 2024 magazine at the end of July.