The Fifth Girl: Surviving the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing - - The News for South Mississippi

The Fifth Girl: Surviving the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing

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Sarah Rudolph Collins was injured in the bombing that killed her sister Addie Mae. Source: WBRC Sarah Rudolph Collins was injured in the bombing that killed her sister Addie Mae. Source: WBRC

What started out as children role playing on stage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement turned into a living history lesson.

In the audience watching the students at Barrett Elementary School was Sarah Collins Rudolph. She was the only person among the young girls in the church basement restroom to survive the horrific bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963.

Her sister Addie Mae Collins was killed along with Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson.

Collins Rudolph said the only way Addie could be identified was from her shoe because they couldn't recognize her face.

"That's something I will never forget, because it was something that should not have happened… Somebody putting a bomb where we go to praise and worship God…and every time I think about it, I always say you have to have a lot of hate on the inside of you to blow up a church…and kill four innocent young girls," Collins Rudolph said.

It was all about hate, hate Collins hopes these young people will only read about and never experience. The Ku Klux Klan targeted 16th Street Baptist Church, which was often the meeting place to strategize demonstrations to end Jim Crow laws segregating black people from freedoms white people were allowed to enjoy easily.

Resistance to the demonstrations was growing more and more violent, but the bombing that killed those girls lit a fuse of its own of social consciousness around the nation and around the world.

Many people are not aware Sarah Collins Rudolph was there.

"After the bombing my face was so disfigured," Collins Rudolph said.

Most of the scars from the glass and nails that embedded in her face and body have healed. She wears a prosthetic eye to replace the right eye she lost. But the emotional scars are taking longer to go away.

Collins Rudolph felt forgotten while her medical bills from surgery after surgery mounted into the multiple thousands of dollars.

"I went through a long time and I didn't have anybody come to me and say, ‘Sarah, we'll help you, we will counsel you and help you through.' And at the age of 12, it was a hard thing, you know, going back to school. I couldn't see out of my right eye. I went through a lot of changes and people back there then, I guess they didn't understand."

Over the years, Sarah Collins Rudolph has been helping people understand, travelling the nation talking about that September Sunday morning evil and opportunity collided.

"I really hate that those four girls were killed on that day…they was some beautiful girls, real sweet like angels…I know they went to heaven because they was just like angels," Collins Rudolph said.

Collins Rudolph has maintained that the families should have received restitution for what they survived. She is also writing a book to talk about her story.

Copyright 2013 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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