Five survivors reflect on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing 59 years later

Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 3:27 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - September 15, 2022 marks 59 years since the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley all lost their lives that day.

The church held a Day of Remembrance to commemorate the 1963 church bombing on Thursday.

A group of women who survived the bombing attended the memorial service. Janie Collins-Simpkins, Joycelyn Lyles-Coke, Deborah Lyles-Smith, Joey James Regal-Favors and Angela Lyles attended youth ministry together as kids.

They believe every child who survived is a victim of the hatred that erupted that day.

“We were victims too and the pain was there,” said Joey James Regal-Favors. “We lost loved ones. We lost friends. I remember Ms. McNair walking around saying, ‘I can’t find Denise’ and I wanted to go back in and find her... I know that my Sunday School teacher is the reason why no one younger than Denise was killed because she told us, ‘Don’t go to the bathroom but go and sit in the assembly area.’”

“We can’t forget Sarah Collins-Rudolph,” said Janie Collins-Simpkins. “She’s my sister. She was in the lounge when all the other girls got killed... She was over near where the sink and that’s the only way she survived but she lost an eye.”

“My sisters and I, I’m the oldest of the three,” said Deborah Lyles-Smith. “We are survivors because I asked my mother to stay home. We went to church every Sunday, I mean every Sunday... The thing is, if we had been here, we would’ve been downstairs in the bathroom because that’s our habit. We would go to the bathroom then come upstairs and sit down... I thank God -- that wasn’t our time.”

All five are ladies are feeling grateful to be alive, even through the pain they continue to endure.

“The explosion that really caused us to have trauma in our lives and have experiences from the results of the bomb,” said Regal-Favors. “The fear of noises, our hearts jumping, fear of people, and we didn’t have counseling. We went straight to school the next day.”

The group of women say when the four girls were killed, the world took notice and it paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement to move forward.

Now they ask for America’s youth to remember the sacrifices that were made so change could happen.

“I hope that the young people that came today, will understand that what they have, they owe their ancestors to be the best person that they can be. To give their all and to do positive and good things. Because somebody shed blood to give them that,” said Regal-Favors.

The women hope that all of the surviving children can have a reunion in the near future.

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