Woman Still Awaits Compensation from State after Surviving 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing

Sarah Collins Rudolph, George Rudolph

FILE – Sarah Collins Rudolph and her husband, George Rudolph, talk in their home on Nov. 16, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File)

By JAY REEVES Associated Press

Sarah Collins Rudolph lost an eye and has pieces of glass inside her body from the 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed her sister and three other Black girls.

She’s still waiting on the state to compensate her for those injuries.

Gov. Kay Ivey apologized to Rudolph two years ago for the “untold pain and suffering” of the bombing, but said legislative involvement was needed in order for her to receive compensation. Rudolph says nothing has been done since.

Rudolph will be at the White House for the bombing anniversary on Thursday to participate in a forum on hate-fueled violence. That day also marks the 59th anniversary of the bombing, which happened on September 15, 1963.

In Birmingham, hundreds gathered at the church for a commemorative service and wreath-laying at the spot where the bomb went off.


Four Black girls were killed in the KKK bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963: Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14 – Graphic from Associated Press

Rudolph is known as the “Fifth Little Girl” for surviving the bombing, which was depicted in Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary “4 Little Girls.”

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Rudolph said then-Gov. George C. Wallace helped lay the groundwork for the Ku Klux Klan attack on 16th Street Baptist Church with his segregationist rhetoric, and the state bears some responsibility for the bombing.

“If they hadn’t stirred up all that racist hate that was going on at the time I don’t believe that church would have been bombed,” said Rudolph.

Rudolph said she still incurs medical expenses from the explosion, including a $90 bill she gets every few months for work on the prosthetic eye she wears in place of the one that was lost.

Rudolph believes she’s due millions.

Birmingham Church Bombing

FILE – Firemen and ambulance attendants remove a covered body from Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where an explosion ripped the structure during services, killing four black girls, on Sept. 15, 1963. (AP Photo, File)

Five girls were gathered in a downstairs bathroom at 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb planted by KKK members went off outside, blowing a huge hole in the thick, brick wall. The blast killed Denise McNair, 11, and three 14-year-olds: Carole Robertson, Cynthia Morris, also referred to as Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins, who was Rudolph’s sister.

Three Klan members convicted of murder in the bombing years later died in prison, and a fourth suspect died without ever being charged.

The church itself has gotten government money for renovations, as has the surrounding Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

“But not me,” Rudolph said.

No bill has been introduced to compensate Rudolph, legislative records show.

While the Alabama Crime Victims’ Compensation Commission helps victims and families with expenses linked to a crime, state law doesn’t allow it to address offenses that occurred before the agency was created in 1984.


Birmingham Church Bombing

FILE – Debris is strewn from a bomb that exploded near a basement room of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. on September 15, 1963, killing four Black girls. (AP Photo, FILE)

Rudolph has spent a lifetime dealing with physical and mental pain from the bombing. Despite her injuries and lingering stress disorders, Rudolph provided testimony that helped lead to the convictions of the men accused of planting the bomb, and she’s written a book about her life, titled “The 5th Little Girl.”

Rudolph’s husband, George Rudolph, said he’s frustrated and mad over the way his wife has been treated. Victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks were compensated, he said, as were victims of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“Why can’t they do something for Sarah?” he said.

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


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