By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D) from Selma and Congressman Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia introduced H.R. 360 to request that the United States Congress bestow its highest civilian honor—the Congressional Gold Medal—to Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair. The four girls tragically lost their lives during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.
Representative Sewell said, “I am honored to introduce this legislation with my colleague Congressman Spencer Bachus today. While there are many individuals and events rightfully worthy of recognition for the sacrifices made to the Civil Rights Movement, the selection of those who lost their lives in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was the most symbolic event associated with the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. The four little girls are emblematic of so many who have lost their lives for the cause of freedom: Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner as well as Virgil Ware and James Johnny Robinson who were killed within hours of the church bombing. Over the course of this year 2013, as we commemorate Birmingham’s role in history, we must make every effort to remember and recognize not just these four little girls but all those who have suffered and sacrificed so that Birmingham, Alabama and this nation could uphold its ideals of equality and justice for all.”
Representative Bachus said, “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. The presentation of a Congressional Gold Medal would be a fitting commemoration of the significance of their lives and, from the vantage point we have 50 years later, of the welcome progress on racial equality that has occurred in Birmingham and our nation as a whole. Despite the violence done against them, the belief of the civil rights movement in nonviolent change helped us to avoid the calamities and endless replaying of bitter grievances across generations that has destroyed the fabric of other societies and countries.”
This year will mark 50 years since the bombing. The medals are intended to commemorate the historical role that the City of Birmingham played in the Civil Rights Movement.
The bill was cosponsored by the entire Alabama delegation as well as Alabama natives, but Georgia Representatives. John Lewis (D) and Sanford Bishop (R).
In Birmingham on September 15, 1963 white supremacists detonated a bomb in the 16th Street Baptist Church just as children were entering the basement on their way to worship. 14 year olds Addie Mae Collins, Caroline Robinson, and Cynthia Wesley were killed. Also killed in the bombing was 11 year old Denise McNair. 22 other people were injured in the explosion and the Church was heavily damaged. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. travelled to Birmingham to deliver the eulogy for the children himself. The senseless disgusted Americans and led to the passage of historic civil rights legislation including the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
To pass the presentation of a Congressional Gold Medal requires the support of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate as well as the signature of the President.