Sarah Collins Rudolph, a survivor of the infamous and racially motivated 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls, is requesting an apology as well as compensation from the state of Alabama 57 years after the incident.
The 1963 bombing, which was orchestrated by suspected Klan members, left Rudolph permanently blinded in one eye, The Washington Post reports. Aged 12 at the time, Rudolph also lost her sister, Addie Mae Collins, 14, and her friends; Carole Robertson, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, and 11-year-old Denise McNair. The incident became one of the vital events in the civil rights movement and contributed to the support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On Tuesday, Rudolph and her attorneys sent a letter to state governor, Kay Ivey.
“Ms. Collins Rudolph simply wanted to do what so many other little girls across Alabama were doing — attend a church service,” the letter from her attorneys said. “But instead of gaining the solace and celebration of prayer, the church was bombed by those affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and our client lost her sister, her right eye, her childhood, and in ways she could never know then as a 12-year old girl, a lifetime’s worth of opportunities and dreams.”
In the aftermath of the bombing, the J. Edgar Hoover-headed FBI dragged its feet in investigations, blaming a lack of evidence. In 1977, five years after the death of Hoover, the case was reopened by the state of Alabama with the help of the FBI. Some of the perpetrators faced justice while some died during the trial.
“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,” the letter said.
“Given what Sarah has suffered — losing an eye … and more broadly the fundamentally different path that this horrendous act put her life on, how do you compensate for that?,” Ishan Bhabha, one of Rudolph’s attorneys, said. “What is a lifetime of missed opportunities worth?”
Bhabha also told The Post they’re hopeful the state won’t reject their request amid the current climate in the country.
“It’s not the kind of thing that should engender disagreement or debate,” he said. “Sarah is an extremely worthy person who has suffered something extraordinary and horrendous and she has been courageous throughout her life.”
“More than ever, this is a time when there has been a national reckoning about the issue of racial justice,” Bhabha continued. “The impetus for righting both current and historical wrongs has become more urgent, so that’s one thing. This is a major part of the national discussion now.”
In an email to the publication, Ivey’s press secretary confirmed they have received the letter and it is being reviewed by her office.
Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair were in the bathroom on the morning of September 15, 1963, when a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klan members, Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss, and Bobby Frank Cherry, went off.
During the funeral of three of the four girls (the fourth girl’s service was held separately) three days later, Martin Luther King Jr. read the eulogy honoring them in front of 8000 people.