Survivors of 1963 bombing support Emanuel Nine families

Updated: Sep. 16, 2015 at 12:07 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Three sisters have come to Charleston to encourage and embrace the families of the Emanuel Nine, and help them get through the pain of loss.

The sisters are survivors of another church tragedy, considered a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, the sisters are left feeling victimized and abandoned.

"We can get along without the hate going on in this nation," Sarah Collins Rudolph said as she sat in the College of Charleston library for our interview.

She and her sisters are in Charleston for an event designed to improve race relations, following the church massacre that claimed nine lives this past June at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.

Life for Sarah, Junie and Janie Collins changed dramatically when a bomb exploded that September day in 1963 at Birmingham, Alabama's 16th Street Baptist Church.

The bomb had been planted by white supremacists affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. Their sister, 14-year old Addie Mae lost her life.

Sarah lost an eye, and her parents rushed to the hospital.

So, Junie Collins Williams explains, she was given a duty, too difficult for most adults.

"And they had me to come identify Addie's body, at the age of 16, so I had layers of hurt on top of hurt," Williams said.

There was no counseling, so the sisters say, the family carried on. They were poor and life was a struggle Williams said the pain was damaging.

"Tired, weary, hurt, wounded, sad," is how Williams said she felt.

She held it all inside, and didn't talk about the loss for twenty years.

"It was like taking a lid off boiling hot water and then, you want to put it back on there, but it's too late," Williams recalls.

The sisters say too many people have been overlooked.

Three other young girls were murdered that day, and 22 people were injured in the blast, among them, Rudolph.

They are forgotten, say the sisters, while the tragedy led to change in the country.

"They say they stand on our shoulders now, but they got to see we didn't get any justice, we didn't get restitution," Rudolph said.

The Collins family is still waiting. Rudolph continued, "Like my mother- they promised us something, and she was waiting, and she died waiting."

Prayer gives them closure, and the sisters say prayer will help the families of the Emanuel Nine.

But the three sisters say they feel restitution is what family members of these tragedies deserve.

"You know what justice is and you know what injustice is," Williams explains. She continued, "People can pat you on the back and say I know how it is, but action speaks louder than words."

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