50 Years Later, Birmingham Bomb Victims Will Be Awarded Congressional Medal

Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were the names of four young women killed in 1963 when a bomb exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. The church was a popular meeting place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and this act of terrorism by Ku Klux Klan members shocked a nation embroiled in the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

The young women, all 14 and under, would be remembered as the “Four Little Girls”, and the black-and-white images of their bright, innocent faces would be seared forever into the American conscience. In the aftermath of the bombing, President Lyndon B. Johnson passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex or religion.

In a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing, the “Four Little Girls” are posthumously being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to honor the role they played in pushing forth the movement for equality. Last Friday, President Barack Obama met with the families of the bombing victims and signed a bill that would bestow the prestigious honor. (The families of two of the girls, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley, have refused to acknowledge the awards as they see them as empty symbolism that does little to make up for the lack of compensation they received after the bombings.)

Two Alabama representatives, Terri Sewell (D) and Spencer Bachus (R), spearheaded the House effort to get the award approved. The medals will be awarded later this year at a Congressional ceremony, then exhibited at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Below: Footage taken after the Birmingham tragedy

 Photo courtesy of GinaYang1 via Creative Commons 2.0.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine