Steve September 16, 2020

A survivor of the church bombing that killed four Black girls in Birmingham, Alabama, 57 years ago deserves an official apology and compensation for the lifelong trauma she suffered from the attack, her lawyers said Wednesday.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, who was 12 when Ku Klux Klan members bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church on the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, lost her sister, her right eye, “her childhood” and a “lifetime’s worth of opportunities and dreams,” the lawyers, who are representing her pro-bono with the firm Jenner & Block, said in a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Bits of glass remained lodged in Collins Rudolph’s left eye, abdomen and chest for decades after the bombing. She became known as the “fifth little girl.”

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Bombing victim Sarah Collins Rudolph, left, and her husband George Rudolph applaud during a memorial service at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 15, 2013.Dave Martin / AP file

The letter says that though the state did not place the bomb next to the church, state officials and Gov. George Wallace, a hard-line segregationist, “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 letter adds that Collins Rudolph has “never received an apology, support, medical care, counseling or any kind of help or acknowledgment from the state for her injuries.”

“She has born the burdens of the bombing for virtually her entire life, and we believe her story presents an especially meritorious and unique opportunity for the State of Alabama to right the wrongs that its past leaders encouraged and incited,” the letter says.

Gov. Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said Wednesday that her office had received and is reviewing the letter.

The bombing killed three 14-year-old girls — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson — and Denise McNair, 11. One of the deadliest acts violence of the Civil Rights era, the attack prompted outrage and support for desegregation, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act a year later.

Decades passed before three men who had been affiliated with the Klan were sent to prison for the bombing. The last conviction was in 2002.

After one of the bombers died earlier this year, Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who prosecuted him, called his decades of freedom “a broader systemic failure to hold him and his accomplices accountable.”

“That he died at this moment, when the country is trying to reconcile the multi-generational failure to end systemic racism, seems fitting,” Jones said.

Tim Stelloh

Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News based in California.

The Associated Press


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