Alabama Governor Offers Requested Apology, Compensation Negotiations For Survivor Of 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing
In a letter to governor Kay Ivey, Sarah Collins Rudolph asked for an apology and an unspecified amount in compensation.
September 24, 2020 at 8:14 pm
Update (October 2, 2020): In a letter to Sarah Collins Rudolph, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey pledged to begin negotiations on a potential settlement and offered her apologies for what she went through, according to The Montgomery Advertiser.
In late September, Rudolph sent a letter to the governor asking for compensation and an apology for the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing that left her blind in one eye and killed her sister as well as three others.
The terrorist attack was partially spurred by the rhetoric coming from the state’s governor at the time, the infamous George Wallace.
The Montgomery Advertiser noted that just 10 days before the bombing, Wallace said “What this country needs is a few first-class funerals, and some political funerals, too” in an interview with The New York Times.
In her letter, Ivey apologized to Rudolph, writing that September 15, 1963 “was one of the darkest days in Alabama history.” But she also questioned whether the state should be held responsible for what happened “so long ago” and said it would largely be left up to attorneys to discuss whether any sort of compensation would be possible.
“It would seem to me that beginning these conversations -- without prejudice for what any final outcome might produce but with a goal of finding mutual accord -- would be a natural extension of my Administration's ongoing efforts to foster fruitful conversations about the all-too-difficult -- and sometimes painful -- topic of race, a conversation occurring not only in Alabama but throughout America," Ivey wrote.
Ivey said she had told her lawyer Will Parker to begin negotiating with Rudolph’s lawyer Ishan Bhabha.
Bhabha and another lawyer released a statement to the newspaper saying they were gratified by the apology.
"We look forward to engaging in discussions in the near future with the Governor about compensation, which Ms. Collins Rudolph justly deserves after the loss of her beloved sister and for the pain, suffering and lifetime of missed opportunities resulting from the bombing,” the statement said.
In addition to Wallace, Alabama has a long history of political leaders who often promoted, participated in and led efforts to spread racial terror among the state’s Black population.
Addie Mae Collins, Carol McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley all died in the church bombing.It took more than a decade for Bob Chambliss to be charged for the bombing and sentenced to life, and it was only in 2001 and 2002 that Thomas Blanton and Frank Bobby Cherry were sentenced for their role in the terrorist attack. All three men died in prison but a fourth man involved in the bombing, Herman Cash, was never even charged.
“There should be no question that Ms. Collins Rudolph and the families of those who perished ... suffered an egregious injustice that has yielded untold pain and suffering over the ensuing decades. For that, they deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology -- an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation," Ivey said in her letter.
Original (September 24, 2020): More than 50 years since the bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed four little girls, one of the survivors of the attack is still looking for justice.
According to The New York Times, Sarah Collins Rudolph lost her right eye when the Ku Klux Klansmen carried out the attack on September 15, 1963. She still has a piece of glass in her left eye from the shards striking her face, with doctors fearing the dangers of trying to remove it.
The 69-year-old has spent many years reaching out to politicians, hoping to get restitution for the injuries she suffered and the trauma which still persists. Lawyers representing the Alabama woman wrote a letter to Governor Kay Ivey on Sept. 14, asking for a formal apology and seeking compensation “to right the wrongs that its past leaders encouraged and incited.”
“Ms. Collins Rudolph simply wanted to do what so many other little girls across Alabama were doing — attend a church service,” the letter states, The Washington Post reported. “But instead of gaining the solace and celebration of prayer, the church was bombed by those affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan."
In addition to losing her right eye, the lawyers said their client lost her sister in the bombing, along with the innocence of her childhood, "and in ways she could never know then as a 12-year old girl, a lifetime’s worth of opportunities and dreams.”
The letter to the governor asks for an unspecified amount in compensation.
“Given what Sarah has suffered — losing an eye … and more broadly the fundamentally different path that this horrendous act put her life on, how do you compensate for that?” attorney Ishan Bhabha said. “What is a lifetime of missed opportunities worth?”
Rudolph is also responding to critics who say the elderly woman is trying to take advantage of the recent global outcry for social justice.
“I’ve heard people were saying that ‘she wants something just because George Floyd and them got money,’ but no, that wasn’t it,” Rudolph told The Times. “I’ve been trying for years.”
The four girls who died in the explosion were 11, and 14-year-olds Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, Rudolph’s sister. While she spent almost a month in the hospital after the attack, Rudolph missed the funeral of her sister. She also fell behind in school and lost her desire to be a nurse. In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, the survivor has become sensitive to loud sounds.
“You should be safe in a church or in your own home,” Rudolph's husband, George, said. “Sarah never did get anything for what she went through.”
Former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was blamed for causing a delay in the investigation of the explosion, ordering field agents to conceal evidence from prosecutors.
One of the attackers, Robert E. Chambliss, was convicted in 1977. Another perpetrator, Thomas E. Blanton Jr., was convicted on four counts of first-degree murder in 2001. Bobby Frank Cherry was also identified as one of the attackers.
Herman Cash, another suspect, died in 1994 before he was ever charged.
Rudolph said the government didn't do anything to quell racial tensions during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
“If they had stopped all this racism, this segregation and all that, maybe they wouldn’t have put a bomb in the church,” the Alabama woman said.
Rudolph's latest letter to the governor accused the state for encouraging the bombing.
“While the State of Alabama did not place the bomb next to the church, its governor and other leaders at the time played an undisputed role in encouraging its citizens to engage in racial violence,” she stated.