Breaking News
More () »

'I had a lot of glass in my face': Survivor of 1963 Birmingham church bombing tells her story

"I think I survived because God wanted somebody to tell the story."

Sitting in front of a packed crowd at Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Sarah Collins Rudolph described the day that motivated a change for civil rights. 

Known as "the forgotten fifth girl," Sarah witnessed the moment her sister and three other friends died in a blast in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. 

She was just 12-years-old. Nearly 60 years later, she remembers the tragic event like it was yesterday. 

"Denise walked over to Addie and asked Addie to tie the sash on her dress," said Sarah in front of a group brought together by The Greater Atlanta Prosecutor's Association. 

She said she was standing at the sink while the other girls - Cynthia Wesley 14; Carole Robertson, 14; Carol Denise McNair, 11; and Addie Mae Collins, 14; - stood in front of the window. Unbeknownst to them, at least 15 sticks of dynamite were at their feet positioned under the steps. 

"When she reached out to tie the sash, 'boom,' that's when the bomb went off. And all I could say was Jesus, Addie, Addie." 

It was the last time Sarah saw her older sister Addie Mae alive. 

"You would go to church and you think you're feeling safe in a church and all of a sudden your sister is killed and your friends are killed."

Miraculously, Sarah was left standing, but bloody.

"I had a lot of glass in my face and in my eyes and glass was in my chest," sh said. 

She spent months in the hospital with thick pieces of gauze over her eyes. She lost an eye and 57 years later, she still has glass in the other one.

At the time, Sarah said she was told to forget about the bombing and continue life as normal. She was never given any counseling services. She couldn't put it behind her. 

To cope she turned to alcohol and smoking until she said she was saved. It was not until she was in her late 40s before she could talk about the hate crime. 

"I think I survived because God wanted somebody to tell the story," she said. "That's a very important story. It should be told right."

The bombing prompted the signing of the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Act of 1965. 

Decades after the bombing, three KKK members were prosecuted.

 Sarah and the families of the other girls who were killed never received financial or mental support after the attack. She believes she deserves some kind of restitution for her injuries. 9


Sophie Speaks: How a Georgia mother allowed her boyfriend to impregnate her 10-year-old

Firefighter hospitalized after going into cardiac arrest during training


Before You Leave, Check This Out