By: Paris Coleman
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, at 10:22 a.m. Sarah Collins Rudolph walked to the downstairs level of the 16th Street Baptist Church to the gather her Bible and wait with the other girls, until they would be called to congregate. She watched her sister bend towards one of the other girl’ sash and begin to
tie it, unaware that she will never again praise her God, or speak to her older sister. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church shook the black community and helped to focus America’s eye on the civil rights movement in Birmingham. In the bombing, four little girls and two teenage boys were murdered by the blast, and 22 others were injured. Sarah, the fifth little girl downstairs, survived the bombing. However, she never regained sight in one of her eyes. Even with partial sight, she, along with the rest of the world, would never see her sash-tying sister alive again. But soon, the rest of the world would be watching every action Birmingham with a magnifying glass. The African American community did not feel the same way. After the havoc at the 16th Street Baptist Church, most blacks were even more afraid to live and be active in the area. But this wasn’t a gradually growing fear anymore; it was a well of hysteria that sprang from the discrimination of racism. Tommie Rodgers, a volunteer at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, describes her experiences as a child in Birmingham during these acts of violence. “We were in church when we heard about the bombing,” Rodgers said. “We were so scared. After that, we didn’t walk anywhere as much as we did, but when we did walk, it was under grown up supervision.” Rodgers also said that she and the children around her were afraid to go to church and school. She remembered the Klu Klux Klan “riding up and down” her church’s street while wearing their white robes. Before the church was actually bombed in September, there were multiple other threats in the months before, according to Reverend John Cross, an activist that worked alongside Reverend Shuttlesworth during this time. Cross said that the Birmingham police often intruded into the church, claiming that there were bomb threats. He also said that the police pleaded with him to evacuate the church and end the sessions that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held, so that the police could search the building for the bombs. When the police searched the building, nothing was found. “It happened just before it was time to preach,” Cross said. “I don’t know whether it was just one of those situations to harass us and make us a little jittery, or what it was.” On the day of the incident, another bomb threat was made. Carolyn McKinstry received an anonymous phone call where someone said, “Two minutes.” She says she had no idea that there were bomb threats earlier that year and that she didn’t even think about what it could mean. She continued her weekly routine and, after what seemed like seconds, Carolyn heard what sounded like thunder. Then, glass and other objects began flying everywhere, and people started screaming for everyone to get down. The church had been bombed.