On June 17, a tragic event took place at Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. Nine people were killed by a gunman and the effects were felt around the world. Dr. Tracy Snipe of Wright State University claims he found himself in Charleston for the funerals not because the victims were his family, but because he felt as though they were.
Snipe was one of eight speakers at the community forum on Sept. 15 hosted by the College’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. The event was entitled “Ties That Bind Two Holy Cities: Reflections in Charleston by Survivors of the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing.”
Other speakers included Burke High School principal Maurice Cannon, a representative from Google, a College of Charleston historian, a family member of a Charleston 9 victim and the three survivors from the Birmingham bombing. The event opened with the AME Church Praise Dancers followed by the Washington Choir.
Snipe served as the moderator for the three sisters and bombing survivors. He referred to the ladies as “Women of God.”
According to Bernard Powers, a professor at the College, the mass shooting at Charleston’s AME church and the Birmingham church bombing are “bound by attack and separated by 52 years.” Throughout the night it was made clear that the tragedies were connected by more than just attack. Cannon remarked, “They are bound by both communities’ strength, faith in each other and courage.”
Sarah Collins Rudolph was present at the time of the bombing that killed her sister. She first recollected the good memories of the start of the tragic day by stating that the sisters’ walk to church was the best one they had taken. Another sister, Janie Collins Simpkins, noted, “God knows what is going to happen; that is why he gave us such a great morning.”
Rudolph continued recalling the day of the bombing; however, she became more emotional. “That day in church we were being taught how to love,” she reminisced, “while the KKK was bombing our church.”
Rudolph remembers being in the lobby when she heard the bomb go off. Blinded by debris, she had to be carried out of the church, where she learned her sister’s fate. “The rest of the girls in the lobby were killed,” she stated.
Due to her own injuries from the bomb, including becoming blind in her right eye, Rudolph spent two months mourning in a hospital bed. “I was unable to attend any funerals.”
Rudolph claims post traumatic stress disorder put her in a bad place for many years while she “jumped her way through life.” She did not fully recover until a loved one encouraged her to attend a new church where, she says, God saved her. Simpkins stated, “God touched me and I was never the same,” and that God, too, saved her.
A family member of one of the Charleston shooting victims, Blondelle Gadsden, though deeply broken and hurt, is now showing nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the love and support she has received. She also found the silver lining in the situation; she has “gained new sisters” after meeting the Birmingham victims, become closer to her community, while also trusting in better days.
The sisters and Gadsden emphasized the importance of loving one another and to see that people are more than just the color of their skin. They also stressed that what God wants out of this is for everyone to show nothing but strength and love.