“5th little girl” Sarah Collins Rudolph shares story of surviving the 16th Street Church bombing

A closer look at the exhibit traveling telling the story
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 10:47 PM EDT
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Wednesday evening, USC Upstate welcomed a small crowd to view a traveling exhibit showcasing South Carolina’s civil rights movement. The event was more than just an opportunity to read and see history. Guests also had the chance to hear it from a woman who lived through it. In 1963, the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bombing took the lives of four young girls, but there was a 5th girl who survived.

“They didn’t die in vain,” said Sarah Collins Rudolph, who grew up in the 16th Street Baptist Church. “They’re the reason why I talk about it.”

The morning of September 15th, 1963, was Youth Day at church.

“We were so excited because we were gonna sing in the choir that day and take up the offering,” she said.

Collins-Rudolph, her older sister Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair were getting ready for service in the basement lady’s lounge.

“Denise walked over to Addie and asked Addie to tie the sash on her dress, and when she reached out to tie it, the bomb went off,” said Collins-Rudolph.

Because she was standing away from the window, she survived. However, she was hit with debris. After losing an eye and living through the trauma, 60 years later, she tells this story across the country.

“When you see the church after the bomb, it was a miracle that came out,” she said. “And people always ask me, did I fall out with God for what happened to me, but he was the reason I am alive today.”

Just like Collins-Rudolph, USC’s traveling civil rights exhibit is keeping history alive through the stories of those who lived it.

“Not only is this about the exhibit about the historical materials, but it’s also about the people in the places and the organizations that were critically involved in the movement,” said Dr. Bobby Donaldson, the Executive Director for The Center of Civil Rights History & Research.

The exhibit began in 2019, sharing little-known papers, photos, footage and documents showing local history.

“This exhibit is a way to educate the broader public about events that took place right here in our own backyard,” said Dr. Robertson.

Collins-Rudolph, still fighting for restitution for her injuries, also hopes to empower young people.

“They need to really get out now and try to do the same thing that we did back then,” she said.

The event series will continue tomorrow from 5:30p to 8P at the Spartanburg Public Library will host a panel discussion with Dee Dee Wright, one of the Greenville Eight, and former Representative Brenda Lee Pryce.