Sunday, September 15, 1963 is a day Sarah Collins Rudolph will never forget. “We were up early walking to church for Sunday school. It was about 17 blocks away from our house and we were walking and having a really good time,” she said.
Typical of most Sunday morning routines, Collins and other young girls went into the restroom in the church’s basement to freshen up and chat. Unbeknownst to them, this carefree moment would soon be violently interrupted.
“My sister Addie was standing near the sink and I was just looking out the door. Another girl, Denise, asked Addie to fasten the tie on her dress. As she reached out her hand, the bomb went off,” said Rudolph.
The infamous 1963 Klu Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. took the lives of Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Rudolph’s sister Addie Mae Collins, and injured over 20 others including Rudolph who lost sight in one eye following the attack.
The story of the “four little girls,” as they have come to be known, has been memorialized in movies, poetry, song, and sculpture.
On Jan. 19, Rudolph, the “fifth little girl” will share her story of triumph, and survival with an audience at the Madame Walker Theatre Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.
Rudolph said she thinks about her sister and the other little girls every day and the memory of their tragic death has had lasting affects on her.
“I just wonder sometimes why do people kill? People don’t realize, that when you kill someone – they have people who love them who are affected. When you murder someone it’s like killing his or her family also. I haven’t gotten over it yet and it’s been 50 something years. People have to think about that. Its time to embrace people and show love now.”
Unfortunately, says Rudolph, instead of progressing as a nation in terms of race relations, we are regressing into patterns of the past.
This past year, scores of Black men and women were gunned down by police, leading to protests and civil unrest. The recent news of a suspected bombing of NAACP headquarters in Colorado has also sparked outrage.
“It seems like we’re going back in time. We still see lots of Blacks being killed by whites. If you look back at what we went through back then, it shouldn’t still be going on,” she said. “When I hear about it, it just really hurts because back in the 60s we lived through it and I really don’t want to live through it again. It’s time for us as a nation to come together in peace and love.”
“Moving Forward While Looking Back: The story of the ‘Fifth Little Girl’ Sarah Collins Rudolph” kicks off on Monday with a Freedom March from the Indianapolis Urban League (777 Indiana Ave.) to the Madame Walker Theatre (617 Indiana Ave.) at 8 a.m. The presentation will begin immediately following at 10 a.m. The event is presented to the public free of charge.
For more information visit thewalkertheatre.org.