Sarah Collins Rudolph was just 12 years old when white supremacists bombed her Birmingham, Alabama, church on a Sunday morning in 1963, killing four Black girls, including her sister. The terrorist attack on the 16th Street Baptist Church, one of the most horrifying hate crimes of that era, left her permanently blinded in one eye and deeply traumatized.
Now, in a moment of racial reckoning and with this week marking 57 years since the bombing, her attorneys say it’s time for the state of Alabama to do the right thing: offer an official apology and compensation.
In a letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey this week, attorneys for Rudolph, often known as the “fifth little girl,” said she has never received an apology for what happened at her church — a meeting place for civil rights activists and a target of the Ku Klux Klan. She didn’t get support, nor medical care, nor counseling, for an act that her lawyers said was motivated by the rhetoric of then-Gov. George Wallace, who was elected a year prior to the bombing on a starkly segregationist platform.
“While social justice is always a worthy cause, given recent events, now is the time for Ms. Collins Rudolph to receive long overdue justice,” attorneys Ishan Bhabha, Alison Stein, and Caroline Cease of the Jenner & Block firm, wrote in a letter to Ivey, dated Sept. 14. “While the State of Alabama did not place the bomb next to the church, its Governor and other leaders at the time played an undisputed role in encouraging its citizens to engage in racial violence, including the violence that stole the lives of four little girls, and irreparably injured a fifth, the morning of September 15, 1963.”
Ivey’s office is reviewing the letter, according to NBC News.
The dynamite bomb, planted by local Klan members, ripped through the wall of the church’s ladies’ lounge that morning and sprayed Rudolph with glass. Rudolph’s sister, 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, had been tying the sash of 11-year-old Denise McNair’s dress in the moments before they died, Rudolph said in a 2019 interview with WBUR. Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, both 14, also perished in the blast. After the explosion, Rudolph was rescued by a church deacon who jumped into the basement. She was hospitalized for months, unable to attend her sister’s funeral, according to WBUR.
“The blood of our little children is on your hands,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in a telegram to Wallace, according to the Washington Post.
Cover: Sara Collins Rudolph and her husband George Carlson Rudolph attend a ceremony to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to her sister Addie Mae Collins and the three other little girls who were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing at the U.S. Capitol September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)