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Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing survivor joins city's 2012 MLK Celebration | Slideshow
Sarah Rudolph Collins was 12 years old when her sister was killed by a bomb in Birmingham, Alabama.
She walked to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church with her sisters on the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement.
She remembers how they all played and shared carefree fun on the way to church. Soon after arriving at church, Collins was standing by the sink in the ladies' lounge. All of a sudden — BOOM — she was blinded in both eyes.
"It scared me so bad, all I could do was call out 'Jesus,'" she said. "I just stayed in the hospital and cried all night."
Three members of the Ku Klux Klan had planted 19 sticks of dynamite in the church's basement. The explosion destroyed the church's back wall and steps. Four girls died: Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14. The bombing, which also injured 22 more people, sparked outrage nationwide and brought more attention to civil rights legislation.
Sarah Rudolph Collins ended up losing an eye in the blast. At the hospital that day, she learned of her sister's death. The trauma haunted her for years as she struggled to cope without counseling, sinking deep into depression, desperate to escape the past. She eventually found a spiritual awakening that gave Collins the courage to share her story. The connection with a new church and a higher power helped steer her life toward a positive path.
"God healed me of all that fear," she told the audience Jan. 14 as the keynote speaker for Federal Way's Martin Luther King Celebration. (See slideshow here)
Event coordinator and Federal Way City Councilman Roger Freeman joined several local leaders to honor the enduring influence of Martin Luther King's legacy on everyday life.
"Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement opened participation in American society to all cultures and ethnicities," Freeman said. "His heroic efforts opened the door to Federal Way becoming the diverse community it is today."
This year's MLK Celebration was sponsored by the city and held at Our Savior's Baptist Church on South 320th Street. Among the more poignant moments was a candlelight vigil and moment of silence for those four girls who died in the 1963 church bombing.
In addition to performances by ARIA Dance Company, the audience watched a video of King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech from Aug. 28, 1963. The speech, which called for racial equality and harmony, was named the top speech of the 20th century.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. In 1983, King's birthday was designated as a federal holiday set for the third Monday in January. The holiday was first observed in 1986.