By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On September 15, 1963, domestic terrorists set off a bomb (one of many detonated in that chapter in Birmingham History) in the 16th Street Baptist Church. The bomb ended the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. National shock and outrage at the savagery of Birmingham’s racists helped lead to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
50 years later Congressman Spencer Bachus (R) and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D) worked together in the House on legislation to bestow Congress’ highest civilian honor to “the four little girls.”
On Tuesday the four were awarded Congressional Gold Medals for the role that their sacrifice played in the civil rights movement.
Representative Bachus said at the ceremony at Statutory Hall,
“In the first book of the Bible, the closing passages from Genesis say, ‘As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’ These perpetrators of what was the worst day, the darkest day in the history of Birmingham, meant evil. They were filled with hate, but God took those actions and that tragedy and turned it into something – still tragic, still heartbreaking – that resulted in a civil rights movement and a movement for good and peace and love.”
Rep. Bachus continued, “Those little girls, innocent as they were, shed their blood but not without a result. So I say to the families, they will join Rosa Parks as true heroes of the civil rights movement and it is very fitting that she would look over us today as we talk about them. They have joined her in history.”
Rep. Sewell said, “I not only question where I would be today without the influence of the “Four Little Girls” but more importantly, I question where America would be. The premature and senseless deaths of these girls awakened the slumbering conscience of America and galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. Their memory served as the torch of courage and strength that my dear friend and colleague John Lewis carried when he marched unarmed, unafraid towards mounted Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in my hometown of Selma, Alabama. The depth of their sacrifice burned in President Johnson’s mind as he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Our country owes a debt of gratitude to these heroines whose shoulders we stand on today.”
Rep. Sewell continued, “I would be remiss not to thank my colleagues from the Alabama congressional delegation who joined me as original co-sponsors of the Bill. We came together in our deep love and appreciation of Alabama’s special role in the civil rights movement. I specifically appreciate the tremendous efforts of Congressman Spencer Bachus and Senator Richard in getting the support we needed in both Chambers of Congress.”
The Congressional Gold Medal will be permanently displayed at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.