BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Sarah Collins Rudolph lost an eye and still has pieces of glass inside her body following a Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed her sister and three other black girls at an Alabama church 59 years ago, and she is still waiting for the state to compensate her for these injuries.
Gov. Kay Ivey dodged the issue of financial compensation two years ago when he apologized to Rudolph for his “untold pain and suffering,” saying legislative involvement was needed. But nothing was done despite the efforts of lawyers representing Rudolph, leaving the question of payment open even if the victims of other attacks, including September 11, were compensated.
Rudolph will meet President Joe Biden at the White House for a summit on countering hate-fueled violence on Thursday, the anniversary of the attack.
Rudolph, known as the ‘Fifth Little Girl’ for surviving the infamous attack, which was portrayed in Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary ‘4 Little Girls’, has been left devastated by the state’s inaction .
Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Rudolph declared then governor. George C. Wallace helped lay the groundwork for the Ku Klux Klan attack on the 16th Street Baptist Church with his segregationist rhetoric, and the state bears some responsibility for the bombing, which was not prosecuted for years.
“If they hadn’t stirred up all this racist hatred that was going on at the time, I don’t believe this church would have been bombed,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph said she was still incurring medical expenses from the blast, including a $90 bill she received every few months to work on the prosthetic she wears in place of her right eye. which was destroyed by shrapnel on September 15, 1963. Anything would help, but Rudolph thinks she owes millions.
Ishan Bhabha, an attorney representing Rudolph, said the state’s apology — delivered at Rudolph’s request along with a restitution plea — was just a first step.
“She deserves justice in the form of compensation for the serious injuries and costs she has had to bear for nearly 60 years,” he said. “We will continue to pursue all available avenues to get Sarah the help she needs and deserves.”
Five girls were gathered in a bathroom on the ground floor of the 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb planted by KKK members exploded outside, blowing a huge hole in the thick wall of bricks. The blast killed 11-year-old Denise McNair and three 14-year-olds: Carole Robertson, Cynthia Morris, also known 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 bombing came eight months after Wallace proclaimed “segregation forever” in his inaugural address and when Birmingham schools were first racially integrated.
The church itself has received government money for renovations, as has Birmingham’s National Civil Rights Monument, formed by President Barack Obama in 2017 in one of his last acts in office. “But not me,” Rudolph said.
Ivey, at the time of the apology, said in a letter to Rudolph’s attorney that any possible compensation would require legislative approval, press secretary Gina Maiola said.
“Furthermore, in the lawyer-to-lawyer conversations that followed soon after, that same point was reiterated,” she said.
No bill has been introduced to compensate Rudolph, according to legislative records, and it’s unclear whether such legislation could pass anyway since conservative Republicans hold an overwhelming majority and have made it a hassle to pull history lessons that might make white people feel bad about the past.
Although the Alabama Criminal Injuries Compensation Board helps victims and families with the expenses of a crime, state law does not allow it to deal with offenses that occurred before the establishment. of the agency in 1984.
Rudolph spent his life coping with the physical and mental pain of the bombings. Despite her injuries and ongoing stress disorders, Rudolph provided testimony that helped convict the men accused of planting the bomb, and she wrote a book about her life, titled “The 5th Little Girl”.
Rudolph’s husband, George Rudolph, said he was frustrated and angry at the way his wife was treated. Victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were compensated, he said, as were victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
“Why can’t they do something for Sarah?” he said.