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Gov. Ivey extends apology to 16th Street Baptist Church bombing survivor

Weeks after the 57th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Governor Kay Ivey extended an apology to the “fifth girl” in the building that fateful day.

Sarah Collins Rudolph survived the white supremacist, domestic terrorist attack. Her sister — Addie Mae Collins — along with Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, died in the bombing. The victims were all black girls ranging in age from 11 to 14 years old.

Attorneys for Rudolph, who was 12 at the time, recently wrote to the governor asking for restitution and a formal apology from the State. The attorneys contend that State and City officials at the time encouraged “its citizens to engage in racial violence.”

George Wallace was governor of the state at the time of the bombing, and “Bull” Connor was police commissioner in Birmingham.
Ivey on Wednesday sent a response letter to Rudolph’s counsel.

“As you know, September 15, 1963 was one of the darkest days in Alabama’s history,” Ivey wrote.

She outlined that the state of Alabama — and the nation — has changed for the better since that day.

“While few can truly imagine what it was like to live through that tragic day, what Ms. Collins Rudolph has endured as a survivor is a testament to the Biblical belief that good does conquer evil,” the governor said.

Since — as Rudolph’s attorneys acknowledged in their initial letter — the State of Alabama did not commit the bombing, Ivey noted “many would question whether the State can be held legally responsible for what happened at the Sixteenth Street 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…” Ivey continued. She further underscored that Rudolph and the other victims’ families “suffered an egregious injustice that has yielded untold pain and suffering over the ensuing decades.”

“For that, they most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology — an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” she added.

Regarding the specific requests made by Rudolph’s attorneys, Ivey stated that more review, consideration and discussion needs to occur. She proposed talks between Rudolph’s legal team and counsel from the state’s executive and legislative branches.

“It would seem to me that beginning these conversations — without prejudice for what any final outcome might produce but with a goal of finding mutual accord — 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,” Ivey wrote.

Read the full letter here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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