The ongoing rise of white nationalist terror in our contemporary context, the prevalence of trauma for Black and Brown people in America, and the political and systemic roll back of voting, educational, reproductive and other basic human rights and freedoms, require our persistent attention. Let us listen to the story of Sarah Collins Rudolph to see what history has to teach us about repairing our present and creating a more just future.
On September 15, 1963, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite inside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama to explode precisely as the children attending Sunday School classes would be on the stairways heading upstairs to the main chapel. When the dynamite exploded into the history of our nation, it destroyed the lives of four innocent girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley who were attending the Sunday School services. Unknown to many is the fact that there was a 5th little girl, a 12-year-old who survived the bombing – Sarah Collins.
The blast from the dynamite blew glass and shrapnel at her face, leaving the 12-year-old permanently blind in her right eye and killing the other girls, including her sister. Although the horrific event was considered a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, accelerating the passage of the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act and other measures to end a half Century of state sanctioned racial discrimination, Sarah Collins, who has endured a lifetime of a painful disability, has become forgotten to history. And, notwithstanding a lifetime of efforts by many, the state of Alabama has never compensated Sarah Collins, for the injuries she endured, as a child, at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.
Since the time of that fateful morning, Sarah Collins, now in her early 70s, has dedicated her entire life as a champion on the pathway to the promise land that Dr. King lost his life promising that someday we would all reach. “I was angry for a long time, I still want to know why? They hurt people who never hurt anyone.” Sarah Collins Rudolph has often said “I had to forgive them, because I didn’t want to carry this hate in my heart,” and has become an advocate against the death penalty.
In honor of the 60th Anniversary of the bombing, Join the Movement, in partnership with Nurturing Justice has interviewed Sarah Collins Rudolph about her journey. We hope you will view and use this video to consider how you can continue the ongoing struggle for racial justice and civil rights.
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