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16th Street Baptist Church Bombing Survivor Advocates For Forgiveness

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The bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama in the 1960s that killed four young girls is one of the many tragedies of the civil rights movement. But what many people don't know is that there was a fifth girl in that basement.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, who was 12 years old at the time, was badly injured in the blast that killed her sister, Addie Mae Collins, and friends Denise McNair, Carol Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. The blast injured 20 others.

"Denise turned around and asked my sister Addie to tie the sash on her dress and by the time she reached her hands out to tie it, that's when the bomb went off," Collins Rudolph told KPBS Midday Edition this week. "I heard this loud sound, I didn't know what it was, it was so loud and when it went off I said 'Jesus.' It scared me so bad."

Collins Rudolph has become an advocate for forgiveness and reconciliation in the years since the bombing. She said she was angry for a long time at the people responsible for killing her sister, but faith helped her understand that she could not continue to hate them.

"I just found out that hating people only brings on sickness and they'd take control of my life, so I went on and had to forgive them," Collins Rudolph said.

She's visiting San Diego on Saturday to take part in a community event at St. Stephen's Church of God in Christ on Imperial Avenue. The event begins at 6 p.m. and includes a civil rights play and a gospel musical.


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