Diversity series presents powerful story

by Jo Giles, UNMC public relations | October 12, 2012

One day ... Sept. 15, 1963.

Two sisters ... Junie Collins Williams and Sara Collins Rudolph.

After the presentation, audience members talked with the Collins' sisters, viewed their historic photos and got autographs.
Each told her story of the Sunday at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that changed their lives. That day, their sister, Addie Mae Collins, was one of the four little girls killed when Ku Klux Klan members bombed their church.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the two sisters collaborate with Tracy Snipe, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science at Wright State University, to share their stories of survival, healing, struggle and closure.

Omaha presentation

As the kick-off event for the 2012-13 UNMC Diversity Lectures and Cultural Arts Series, the three traveled to Omaha to present, "A Tale of Two Sisters: Civil Rights Project."

"It was one of the best events we've had on campus," said Ron Powell, refrigeration technician in UNMC's Facilities and Planning department.

Raw emotion

Members of the audience were captivated by the sisters' raw emotion, transported to a tragic time in our nation's history and inspired by the women's resilience and faith.

During their childhood, church was viewed as a safe place. But, experiencing a bombing just before the youth program shattered their world. A young Sarah, known as the "fifth girl," survived the blast but lost sight in one of her eyes. Her older sister, Junie, was asked to identify their sister Addie's body -- which was unrecognizable except for one shoe.

Emboldened by faith

Yet, their faith sustained them through the decades.

"I was amazed at their stories and honored to just meet them. I was literally touching living history," said Carolyn Peterson, nurse coordinator at The Nebraska Medical Center.

The two sisters are working with Dr. Snipe on biographies which detail their lives before and after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

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