LISTEN: Survivor of 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963 Speaks Out

4798Signs of 1963 are everywhere in Birmingham, Ala., these days. The city is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights events of that year: the children who marched until police turned fire hoses and dogs on them; Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"; and the September bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Sarah Collins Rudolph was with her sister Addie Mae Collins when a bomb exploded in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. The 1963 bombing killed her sister and three other girls, and Collins Rudolph was seriously injured in the attack. (Credit Frank Couch / AL.COM /Landov)
Planted by white supremacists, the bomb killed four young girls preparing to worship. It was an act of terrorism that shocked the country and propelled Congress to pass the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Tuesday in Washington, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced plans to pursue a Congressional Gold Medal for the girls, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair and Addie Mae Collins -- the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. But there was another victim that day -- a fifth girl, who survived the attack.

That girl, Sarah Collins Rudolph, now lives in a modest ranch-style house just north of Birmingham. She remembers the bombing like it was yesterday.

"I was standing there, just standing there bleeding," Rudolph, now 62, recalls. "And somebody came and they just picked me up and took me out through the hole and put me in [an] ambulance."

Rudolph was just 12 when her older sister Addie Mae died in the blast. Rudolph was sprayed with glass, lost an eye and was hospitalized for months. Then, she says, she was told to put it all behind her -- but she can't.

"I still shake. I still jump when I hear loud sounds," Collins says. "Every day I think about it, just looking in the mirror and seeing the scars on my face. I'm reminded of it every day."

The scars are physical, mental and financial. Medical bills that have mounted over the years as Collins worked in factories and cleaning houses -- mostly without health insurance. She has insurance now through her husband, George, but there are still out-of-pocket medical expenses.

In October, Rudolph went before the Birmingham City Council to ask for help. Her husband says the city ignored her.

"If you look back at the people in the trade towers, each one of those victims got paid. The families, they got paid," George Rudolph says. "But my wife, she didn't get anything. She should get compensated."

Birmingham Mayor William Bell says he's not insensitive. He appreciates the trauma Sarah Rudolph has been through. But, he says, the city cannot just write her a check.


Source: WCAI / Cape and Islands NPR 
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