By Steven W. Thrasher
America has failed to deliver justice for the many who gave their lives for the Selma to Montgomery marches, and all they stood for. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and thousands who faced down segregation – such as activists Jimmie Lee Jackson and James Reeb – did not simply sacrifice themselves for the vote, but in trying to end oppression for black Americans. Still today, white supremacy is enshrined in American law. Given how it has walked away from enforcing civil rights, the federal government is no longer a bulwark against racism in local government even in the limited ways it was during the 1960s. And it’s not just that America hasn’t dealt with racial justice post-Selma; it hasn’t dealt with the injustices of what happened in Alabama in the 1960s.
The men accused of Reebs’s murder were acquitted. Jackson’s killer was convicted 42 years after the fact, but served less than six months in jail. There is also unfinished work when it comes to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. While some of the bombers who killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were, much later (from 1977 to 2002) convicted of committing first-degree murder, society has almost entirely forgotten the fifth girl bombed that day.
Sarah Rudolph lost one eye, her sister, and eventually her church home that day. With vision failing in her remaining eye, she now faces blindness. Yet she has never received compensation for her injuries – not from the bombers’ families, nor from the formerly segregated city of Birmingham, which allowed for a hateful environment to flourish that enabled her attack. Even as the federal government presented Congressional Gold medals posthumously to her sister and her friends in 2013, it has forgotten her entirely and left her to fend for herself.
As Rudolph told the Guardian in Birmingham this week: “26 pieces of glass came out of my face. They couldn’t save my eye, they had to remove it. I had to pay all the medical expense costs. I was under the doctor for years. I still under the doctor and I still paying bills for my eyes … I was trying to get restitution for my injury, but everywhere I was going, they said [there was no] restitution for the folks that was injured in that bombing”.
Rudolph, saddled with the rising out-of-pocket costs for her health care, asked the city of Birmingham for help in 2012. William Bell, the black current mayor, reportedly told her that his city – which once employed Bull Connor to facilitate government sponsored terrorism – is not “financially liable” for the effects said government sponsored terrorism had on her.