In the hands of Congress: Lawmakers seek to honor 1963 church bombing victims
By SGZ Staff
A group of lawmakers seeks to award the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress, to the four Black girls who died in the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing – an event that became a key turning point in the civil rights movement.
Legislation was introduced Jan. 23, and if approved by Congress, the bestowing of the medal would coincide with Birmingham’s year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing and other pivotal civil rights incidents.
On Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16thStreet Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., – the headquarters for civil rights activism – killing Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14. According to the Associated Press, the four girls were among a group of children entering a church basement that day, when dynamite equipped with a timer detonated. Twenty-two others, including the sister of Addie Mae Collins, Sarah Collins Rudolph, were injured when the explosion blew a hole through a wall in the church, shattering most of its windows.
The bill also includes recognition for two boys who were killed that same day.
“A Congressional Gold Medal would be a fitting and proper commemoration,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., who said he would support the bill. “It is important to reflect, especially for each new generation, how an act of evil that killed four innocent young girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church jarred the conscience of the American people and led to permanent change in our society,” he said in a statement.
The Congressional Gold Medal, which requires significant bipartisan support, has been used to recognize world leaders, military heroes, scientists, actors, artists, institutions and events. Among the civil rights leaders who have been awarded Congressional Gold Medals are the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his widow, Coretta Scott King; Dorothy Height, who led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades; Rosa Parks; and the Little Rock Nine, nine Black students who integrated a Little Rock, Ark., high school.