The Sole Survivor of the Birmingham Church Bombing Shares Her Story at the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Auburn Scholarship Breakfast

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“I had to forgive them, because I didn’t want to carry that hatred in my heart.” –Sarah Collins Rudolph

Sarah Collins Rudolph was 12 on September 15, 1963, when dynamite planted by members of the Ku Klux Klan exploded inches from where she and four other young black girls were gathering in the 16th Street basement Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

The blast blew glass and shrapnel into her face, leaving her blind in her right eye and killing the other girls – her sister, Addie Mae Collins, and their friends, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair – who were only 14 at the time.

“I called ‘Addie, Addie, Addie’… She didn’t answer,” Collins Rudolph told a crowd that had gathered for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast. of Auburn University, held at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference. Center on January 16. “I didn’t know what had happened. I was just wondering why would people put a bomb in the church and kill innocent people? We came to church to praise God.

As the sole survivor of the incident, Collins Rudolph is on a mission to tell her story. Many know the story of the “four little girls,” whose untimely death marked a turning point in the civil rights movement.

Collins Rudolph, known as “the fifth baby girl,” was the featured breakfast panelist this year at Auburn’s MLK Week celebrations. About 180 people attended in person for the first time since 2020 to celebrate King’s life and legacy.

The Scholarship Breakfast was hosted by the National Forum of Black Public Administrators – East Alabama Chapter, in conjunction with Auburn University University Extension Office and the Office of Inclusion and Diversityor OID.

“We have indeed been privileged to hear Ms. Collins Rudolph’s first-hand account of this tragic day, as she has only begun sharing her story in recent years,” said Taffye Clayton, Vice President and Vice President, Office of Inclusion and Diversity. “It was inspiring to hear the rest of the distinguished and diverse panel share their thoughts on how far they’ve come, while still having a long way to go.”

Several university and community leaders attended the breakfast.

“As one of the most influential people in our American history, Dr. King reminds us that there is still work to be done and that each of us has a responsibility to work towards a more equitable nation for all who call America, the state of Alabama and the home of the city of Auburn,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders Jr. in his welcoming remarks.

The event was also an opportunity to recognize community leaders and high school seniors who are “ccharting a course forward and fostering connection over dissent, change over stagnation, and most importantly, love over hate.

Congratulations to Regina Berry Meadows, Director of Circles Opelika, a poverty reduction program, and Tamarcus Milner, Deputy Director of the Opelika Learning Center, two community leaders who were honored for their service to humanity. Jeremiah Leon Woods and Ashleigh Pitts also received scholarships for their academic and extracurricular achievements.

The theme for the breakfast was “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can,” a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Organizers pointed out that Collins Rudolph embodies that message.

“I had been angry for a long time and I knew I had to forgive these people who hurt me,” she said, describing having to testify at the men’s trials. “That’s what I had to do, I had to forgive them, because I didn’t want to carry that hate in my heart.”

“If she [Collins Rudolph] can forgive the men who set off a bomb that killed a family member and his friends,” said panelist and state Rep. Jeremy Gray, “then we can forgive a friend, we can forgive a colleague, so we don’t need to leave here today, we really need to apply this to life. How can I make the world a better place and how can I lead with love? »

The Fellowship Breakfast kicked off Auburn’s 2023 MLK Week, a series of events designed to celebrate and learn about King’s life and his fight for civil rights. These events included a canned goods and hygiene drive, the creation of a Living the Legacy vision board, an MLK learning lunchand The Black Student Union, or BSU, annual tradition of a day of service.

For more information on Auburn’s commitment to DEI and other acknowledgments, please visit OID through its websiteto instagram, DEI landing page or by registering at OID Bulletin expected to return later this spring.

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