16th Street Baptist Church bombing survivor remembers the day, 57 years later

Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 7:54 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Tuesday marked the 57th anniversary of the 16th Street Church bombing, a hate crime that killed 4 Black girls who were attending Sunday school.

But there was a survivor among those young ladies - the sister of one of the girls who was murdered on that day.

Sarah Collins Rudolph was just 12 years old when the bombing happened, but she remembers that day vividly, referring to herself as “Birmingham’s Fifth Girl.”

She has spent her entire life healing from those physical and emotional scars.

It was 57 years ago when Sarah and her sister Addie Mae gathered in the downstairs ladies' lounge of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

They wanted to freshen up in between Sunday school classes and were later joined by two other girls.

“Denise McNair was in front of the crowd,” Rudolph recalled.

“And she turned around to Addie and asked Addie to tie the sash on her dress, and when she reached out her hands to tie it, that’s when I heard a loud sound. Boom!” Rudolph said.

Sarah was remarkably still standing following the blast and called out to Addie Mae.

Blinded by debris, she was unaware of what happened to her sister. She wouldn’t find out the devastating news until the next day.

“My mother told me that all the girls that were in there with me, they was all killed. I was the only survivor,” Rudolph said.

Sarah is still haunted by the bombing, suffering panic attacks and still jumping at loud noises.

A piece of glass remains in her left eye, doctors saying it’s best to leave it since it’s not causing her any trouble.

And there’s one wound that will never heal: Thomas Blanton, Jr., the last known bomber, died back in June.

“I was sad because he had died, 'cause I was looking for him to talk, and tell who else was in this bombing because I really believe there was more than four people. He died with all that on the inside of him,” Rudolph explained.

When asked if she has forgiven those responsible for that bombing, Mrs. Rudolph said, “Yes,” because she didn’t want to carry around that hate.

She also said she had hoped things would be different by now in terms of racism and encourages everyone to continue peaceful protests and vote in the upcoming presidential election.

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