Rudolph was 12 and permanently blinded in one eye by shards of glass when the dynamite blasted through the ladies lounge in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The explosion killed Rudolph’s 14-year-old sister, Addie Mae Collins, and their friends, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14.
Rudolph’s attorneys had sent a letter to Ivey on the anniversary of the bombing this year requesting a formal apology from the state of Alabama and restitution. Rudolph and her lawyers singled out the state for encouraging the bombing.
“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,” their letter read.
In her response Wednesday, the Republican governor said “many would question whether the State can be held legally responsible for what happened at the Sixteenth Baptist Church so long ago. 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.”
Ivey said the state legislature would need to decide whether to issue a formal apology or make restitution and proposed that attorneys from her office and the state legislature begin discussions with Collins’s attorneys “as soon as possible.”
Such dialogue “would be a natural extension of my Administration’s ongoing efforts to foster fruitful conversations about the all-too-difficult — and sometimes painful — topic of race, a conversation occurring not only in Alabama but throughout America.”
Collins’s attorneys at the D.C. office of Jenner & Block, which has taken on her case pro bono, welcomed Ivey’s response Wednesday.
“We are gratified by Governor Ivey’s unequivocal acknowledgment of the egregious injustice that Ms. Collins Rudolph suffered, and by the Governor’s apology for the State’s racist and segregationist rhetoric and policies that led to Ms. Collins Rudolph’s injuries,” firm partners Ishan Bhabha and Alison Stein, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We look forward to engaging in discussions in the near future with the Governor about compensation, which Ms. Collins Rudolph justly deserves after the loss of her beloved sister and for the pain, suffering and lifetime of missed opportunities resulting from the bombing.”
The 16th Street Baptist Church had become a staging ground in early 1963 for a campaign to desegregate the city led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and local minister Fred Shuttlesworth. That May, Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor had directed his forces to sic dogs on the young civil rights demonstrators and blast them with fire hoses during the Children’s Crusade near Kelly Ingram Park.
Thousands of protesters had been arrested by summer, including King, who famously penned his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”
Gov. George Wallace (D), in resisting federal demands to desegregate, declared that “what this country needs is a few first-class funerals.” But by early September the city had already begun integrating the first few schools.
Earlier this month, Collins released a statement about the impact the bombing had on her life.
“That day changed the course of my life forever,” she wrote “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,” she wrote. “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.”
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