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60 years later, 16th Street Baptist Church bombing survivor seeks restitution

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed 60 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan, killing four Black girls: Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson.

It also left lasting scars on survivors like Sarah Collins Rudolph, Addie Mae Collins’ sister, who became known as “The 5th Little Girl.”

“I just miss her being with her,” Rudolph said about her sister. “We would laugh and have a lot of fun together.”

A photograph taken days after the attack shows Rudolph bandaged in a hospital bed, having lost an eye. Six decades later, she has not received any compensation for her injuries despite struggling from them for decades.

“I would think that the Alabama state would compensate me for what I went through with but they haven’t given me anything for my injury,” she said. “I figured they owe me restitution when people were promoting hate at that time.”

In 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey issued an apology for the racist and segregationist rhetoric used by some leaders at the time. Ivey’s office told Rudolph’s lawyer that the state legislature would be the correct body to appeal for restitution. But attempts to advance her claim there quickly faltered.

CBS News reached out to the governor’s office for comment on Rudolph’s denied claims but received no response.

Rudolph and her sister lived in Birmingham, one of the most segregated and racially violent American cities at the time. Gov. George Wallace’s infamous vow of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” exemplified the hostility toward Black residents.

Rudolph said when the girls arrived at the church that morning, they were having a good time and went to the basement to freshen up — moments before the bomb exploded.

“‘Boom.’ And all I could do was say, ‘Jesus, Addie, Addie, Addie.’ But she didn’t answer,” said Rudolph.

“Those girls didn’t get a chance to live their life. But they was killed just because they was Black,” she said.

The dynamite planted by KKK members not only killed the four girls and wounded dozens of others but also left a crater in the church’s basement.

Today, the 16th Street Baptist Church continues to welcome tens of thousands of visitors each year. Pastor Arthur Price Jr., who now leads the church, said the tragedy became an agent of change.

“We are being agents of change, which we believe the four little girls were because of what happened to them. It helped change, the world,” he said.

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