By Zenitha Prince
AFRO Archives April 11, 2013

The message and impact of the August 1963 March on Washington were still resonating around the globe when an act of violence tore into the American psyche and acted as an impetus for the civil rights movement.

On Sept. 15, 1963, Klansmen bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Four African-American girls, Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Robertson, all 14, died from the blast and many others were injured.

Now, Congress is considering conferring a top award to honor the victims. But the tragedy’s lone survivor, Sarah Collins Rudolph, reportedly has said she wouldn’t accept the award, and instead wants restitution after years of medical treatment and out-of-pocket medical expense.

AP Photo-Sarah Collins Rudolph, the lone survivor of a 1963 church bombing, and Fate Morris, whose sister died in the blast, discuss their desire for compensation from the bombing during an interview in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Rudolph was badly injured in the bombing, which killed sister Addie Mae Collins, and Morris said he is still haunted by memories of digging through the church rubble. The two say they will turn down a proposed Congressional Gold Medal honoring the victims. (Photo/Jay Reeves)

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been considering giving Rudolph and the murdered girls the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest award.

Rudolph said she has been largely forgotten in the 50 years since the tragic bombing, according to The Associated Press. She lost an eye when the bomb tore through the church. And although she endured months of hospitalization and several surgeries to try to restore sight in her left eye, she was never given restitution, she added.

Her husband said, according to NPR, that survivors of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were compensated through the congressionally-mandated September 11th Victims Compensation Fund.

A total of $7 billion was paid to 9/11 victims and their families in exchange for a pledge not to sue the airlines for security shortcomings that lead to the use of hijacked commercial jetliners as bombs. The average payout is $1.7 million, according to the Justice Department.

Since the American Revolution, Congress has conferred the medal upon individuals, institutions and events for distinguished achievements and contributions to society.

In the country’s early years, most recipients were military leaders, beginning with the Continental Congress’ acknowledgement of George Washington in 1776. Since then, the list of honorees has been expanded to include captains of industry, inventors, entertainers, clergy, explorers and humanitarians.

Several African-American individuals and organizations have garnered recognition, including Gen. Colin Powell, the Little Rock Nine, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Dr. Dorothy Height and baseball great Jackie Robinson.

Fate Morris, brother of the slain Wesley, told the AP he’s also not interested in the award, either.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO