BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Friday, 16th Street Baptist Church commemorated the 60th anniversary of the church bombing that took the lives of four little girls- Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair.
CBS 42 sat down with Sarah Collins Rudolph, Addie Mae’s younger sister. She was the fifth little girl in the bathroom the day of the bombing.
Rudolph said she’s flooded with memories each year at this time and it still hurts, but that she finds purpose as the voice for the other little girls.
On September 15, 1963, Rudolph said she walked to 16th Street Baptist Church with friends and her sister, Addie Mae.
“We was having a lot of fun with Janey’s purse,” said Rudolph. “It was shaped like a football. We were just throwing it, and catching it, just running, never knowing what we was going to walk into.”
Rudolph and Collins were freshening up in the church’s basement bathroom before class, later joined by Wesley, Robertson and McNair.
“She [Denise] walked over, asked Addie to tie the sash on her dress, and when she reach her hand out, out to tie it, I heard this loud noise,” said Rudolph. “Boom! We never did see her finish tying it.”
In shock, Rudolph said she didn’t know what happened to the girls.
“Until I heard someone holler, ‘Somebody bombed the 16th Street Church,’” said Rudloph.
Rudolph lost an eye in the bombing and said she’ll never be same from the trauma she’s endured. To this day, Rudolph said she’s never received any restitution from the state for everything she’s been through.
Even so, she chooses to stay strong as the living testimony.
“At first, I wasn’t able to go around and tell this story,” Rudolph said. “So many people didn’t know there was a fifth girl. So, after God touched me, I began to go around talking about it.”
The Ku Klux Klansmen (KKK) bomb killed the four girls Rudolph was in the bathroom with that day. Rudolph said she still misses her sister dearly and thinks about the four little girls every single day.
Current pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Reverend Arthur Price, said that day changed the course of history.
“The anger turned into action into activism,” said Price. “Those individuals wanted to make sure that those girls did not die in vain. So, they, again, made sure they moved forward to make sure that the Civil Rights Act was passed, and the Voting Rights Act was passed.”
Rudolph and Price said Birmingham and the nation have come a long way in 60 years.
“Here in Birmingham, we don’t see the separate restrooms or the separate water fountains,” said Price. “You see people able to go into different facilities. You see black and white coming together doing things. So, I think we’ve come a long way, but yet we still have a long way to go.”
Today’s commemoration of the 60th anniversary at the historic 16th street Baptist Church will start at 9:30a.m. Justice Ketanji Jackson, the first African American female U.S. Supreme Court justice will serve as today’s special keynote speaker.
“We should be able to get along with each other because we were made in God’s image, and we didn’t make ourselves,” said Rudolph. “So, we should all know how to love one another. And have peace with one another.”