Once Forgotten: The Sarah Collins Project
September 15, 1963.
Birmingham in the 1960's.
In the early 1960's, Birmingham was probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. It was a KKK stronghold and Martin Luther King described it as America’s worst city for racism. Although the city's population of almost 350,000 was 60% white and 40% black...
...Birmingham had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks in department stores, bus drivers, bank tellers, or store cashiers.
...Black secretaries could not work for white professionals.
...Jobs available to blacks were limited to manual labor in Birmingham's steel mills, work in household service and yard maintenance,
or work in black neighborhoods.
...The average income for blacks in the city
was less than half that of whites.
Then, in 1963, one devastating act of violence made Birmingham a focus for a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
What happened that day.
Most people know about "The Four Little Girls" who were murdered that day. But Sarah Collins, who made it out of the church basement alive, has largely been forgotten. You probably won't find her name in any history books. Children don't learn about her when they study the Civil Rights Movement. But 12-year-old Sarah was there. She lost her sister, Addie Mae, and sustained serious injuries in the blast that took out her eye and left her body riddled with glass. Sarah was confined for months on a "blacks-only" floor of a Birmingham hospital.
And although she was eventually able
to return to school, her life would never
be the same: she was scarred --
physically and emotionally. Once an
eager and excellent student, the head
trauma she'd undergone affected her
concentration and memory. To make
matters worse, her glass eye was too
big, and would pop out at the slightest
bump. There’s no question that the
blast knocked Sarah’s life off-course. She abandoned her dream of going to college and becoming a nurse. Instead, she's made her living working physically demanding, low-wage jobs. For decades, Sarah suffered in silence; alone, angry, self-destructive and forgotten. Sarah Collins is the "The Fifth Little Girl." Even more than recognition, she needed real support from both her community and her country. And she still does.
What happened after that day.
Sarah's family was one of the poorest in her community and they struggled to pay her medical expenses. That no one would help them was inconceivable to Sarah's mother. She died still believing that they would get help with their mounting bills, but that help never came. It's become commonplace for states to sponsor compensation funds to ease the financial burden suffered by the victims of crime and their families. If the bombing occurred today Sarah and her family would be eligible for assistance through Alabama's Crime Victims Compensation Commission which was established in 1984. It's also likely that individual Americans would donate generously to show their sympathy and support for Sarah and her family in the same way they have for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, Sandy Hook and 9/11. But that's not how things worked in 1963. It's not too late.We can still make a difference.
Mourners outside funeral service for Carol Robertson,one of the four girls killed in the bombing. AP Images.
The crater and other damage caused by the bombing.
12-year-old Sarah in the hospital. Photographed ca September 1963.
Five young girls were in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan exploded.
One survived. And she needs our help. Please donate now.
In the wake of the attacks on the Boston Marathon and the World Trade Center, an outpouring of
financial aid for the victims expressed a belief that their suffering was a sacrament of our democracy.
Yet Sarah Collins Rudolph -- maimed by native-born terrorists in our nation's great internal freedom
struggle -- has been expected to deal with protracted medical and cosmetic issues, to say nothing of
other forms of anguish, on a domestic worker's wages.
Birmingham, Ala. Public Library Archives
Frank Dandridge. Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.