Alabama governor apologizes to survivor of 1963 church bombing

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2016 file photo, Sarah Collins Rudolph and her husband, George Rudolph, discuss their worries about the upcoming Donald Trump presidency in their home in Birmingham, Ala.. Rudolph, the survivor of the 1963 church bombing that killed four little girls, is seeking an apology and restitution from the state of Alabama. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Credit: Jay Reeves

Credit: Jay Reeves

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has apologized to a survivor of the deadly 1963 Birmingham church bombing but said she would not commit to the woman’s request for restitution without legislative approval, according to reports.

Sarah Collins Rudolph survived the blast 57 years ago at the 16th Street Baptist Church — a racist attack that killed four other Black girls.

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Three members of the Ku Klux Klan planted more than a dozen sticks of dynamite under a set of stairs outside the church. Inside, Rudolph was among the five girls gathered in a downstairs bathroom where the bomb detonated.

The blast claimed the lives of Denise McNair, 11, and Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Rudolph’s sister Addie Mae Collins, all of whom were 14 years old.

The Klan members who carried out the bombings were convicted years later, and all have since died in prison. A fourth suspect was never charged.

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Rudolph, now 69 but 12 at the time of the bombing, was blinded in one eye and has spent a lifetime recovering from physical and emotional scars. She still has shards of glass in her body, The Associated Press reported.

Attorney Ishan K. Bhabha said Rudolph’s story “cries out for justice.”

“Her life was put on a fundamentally different track in an instant as a little girl,” he said.

The governor responded Wednesday in a written statement, calling the blast an “egregious injustice” that caused decades of “untold pain and suffering.”

“For that, they most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology — an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” Ivey wrote.

Rudolph’s attorney submitted the request for restitution, but Ivey said talks about compensation would need to originate with the state Legislature.

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“For that reason, I would propose that our attorneys — as well as attorneys for the Legislature — begin such discussions with you as soon as possible,” she wrote.

Rudolph’s husband said they had not yet personally received the governor’s apology, CBS News reported.

In the request, Rudolph’s lawyers argued that then-Gov. George Wallace provoked violence through his incendiary and unyielding stance against desegregation.

“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, including the violence that stole the lives of four little girls, and irreparably injured a fifth, the morning of September 15, 1963,” her attorneys wrote in the letter to Ivey on Sept. 14.

But Ivey, in her response, raised questions about whether the state could be held legally liable.

“There should be no question that the racist, segregationist rhetoric used by some of our leaders during that time was wrong and would be utterly unacceptable in today’s Alabama,” she said.

Months earlier, Wallace had vowed “segregation forever” during his inaugural, and the bombing occurred as Birmingham’s public schools were being desegregated.

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