‘5th Little Girl’ from Birmingham church bombing Sarah Collins Rudolph to speak at SIU

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Sarah Collins Rudolph, who survived the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing that became a galvanizing point in the Civil Rights Movement, will share her insights at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library on Wednesday, March 29.


Collins Rudolph will be at the library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and includes a reception. Linda Flowers, president of the Carbondale branch of the NAACP, will conduct the interview with Collins Rudolph.


“We are privileged to host Ms. Sarah Collins Rudolph on campus,” John Pollitz, dean of Library Affairs, said. “The 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was an act of domestic terrorism that shook the nation. As the sole survivor of that tragedy, her story helps us gain new insight into the evil that can exist in our country at a time when we seem to be inured to the tragedy of children being killed, and her experience will show us one path to striving for social justice.”


Collins Rudolph was 12 years old when dynamite that Ku Klux Klan members planted blew a hole in the church wall near where she and four other girls had gathered in the basement while preparing for Sunday school on Sept. 15, 1963. Her 14-year-old sister, Addie Mae Collins, and their friends Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, both 14, died in the blast. Collins Rudolph lost sight in her right eye and still has pieces of glass inside her body.


Collins Rudolph is known as the “Fifth Little Girl” for being the lone survivor of the five girls. She co-authored the 2020 book “The 5th Little Girl: Soul Survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.” The FBI notes that more than 20 people inside the church were also injured. The bombing was also profiled in filmmaker Spike Lee’s Academy Award nominated 1997 documentary “Four Little Girls.”


Collins Rudolph will be selling copies of her book at the African American Museum of Southern Illinois in University Mall in Carbondale, from 5-7 p.m. today, March 28, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Eurma C. Hayes Community Center, 441 E. Willow St., Carbondale, if books are still available.


The campus event is sponsored by SIU’s Morris LibraryOffice of the Vice Chancellor for Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and Walter Green.