Alabama Gov. Offers Formal Apology to Survivor of 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing
"They most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology — an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” Gov. Kay Ivey wrote
Nearly 60 years after a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan blinded her in one eye and killed her sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph has received a formal apology from the governor of Alabama.
Gov. Kay Ivey issued Rudolph, a survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in 1963, a formal apology in a letter sent to her attorneys and obtained by the Washington Post.
Ivey called Sept. 15, 1963 “one of the darkest days in Alabama’s history.”
Collins, who was 12 at the time, lost her 14-year-old sister Addie Mae Collins and friends Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, when the bomb exploded in the predominantly Black church’s basement.
“While few can truly imagine what it was like to live through that tragic day, what Ms. Collins Rudolph has endured as a survivor is a testament to the Biblical belief that good does conquer evil,” Ivey wrote.
Her letter came in response to one sent by Rudolph’s attorneys that alleged that while the state didn’t actually place the bomb, its governor and other leaders at the time “played an undisputed role in encouraging its citizens to engage in racial violence,” and asked for an apology and restitution for Rudolph, the Post reported.
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“It is hard to put into words the pain I’ve had to deal with, both physical and emotional, because of the acts of violent hatred and bigotry on that day,” Rudolph wrote in a recent statement, according to the Post. “They wanted to hurt me or kill me because I’m Black. They bombed a church because it was a Black church. They murdered my sister and her friends because they were Black. It has taken decades to even begin to come to terms with this trauma. To have my suffering acknowledged and to receive an apology for what happened to me would help bring a sense of closure. I truly hope Governor Ivey will do the right thing.”
In her letter, Ivey acknowledged the claims, and specifically cited the fact that the state did not place the bomb as reason for why Alabama should not be held legally responsible.
“Having said that, 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 wrote.
The Republican governor continued, writing that Rudolph’s family, as well as those of the victims, suffered an “egregious injustice that has yielded untold pain and suffering over the ensuing decades” — something that deserved an apology.
“For that, they most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology — an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” she wrote.
The church was a key civil rights meeting place, and became part of a campaign led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and local minister Fred Shuttlesworth to desegregate the city of Birmingham in early 1963, according to the Washington Post.
Local officials, however, responded with violence, and Gov. George Wallace even reportedly declared that “What this country needs is a few first-class funerals.” The attack served as a turning point for the civil rights movement, and the Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson shortly after.
Rudolph’s attorneys reportedly issued a statement saying they were “gratified” by Ivey’s acknowledgement of the “egregious injustice” their client has faced, and were awaiting future discussions about possible compensation to make up for “pain, suffering and a lifetime of missed opportunities.”