Alabama's congressional delegation introduced at bill to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to four African-American girls who were killed in the infamous 1963 bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church.
If the Senate and the House of Representatives approve the measure, 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley would receive the nation's highest civilian award.
"It is important to reflect, especially now 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 let to permanent change in our society," said Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat and the first African-American woman from Alabama elected to Congress, and five other members of the state delegation.
Sewell said "The four little girls are emblematic of so many who have lost their lives in the cause of freedom: Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner...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."
The bombing of the church is considered a watershed moment because it galvanized national and international public attention on the civil rights struggle and helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act ofd 1965. Three Ku Klux Klansmen were convicted of the church bombing.
Wednesday's introduction of the bill was just the first step. Two-thirds of the House must sign on as co-sponsors of the legislation and 67 senators must do the same before it can be considered.
If approved, the girls would join a list of Gold Medal recipients that includes former South African President Nelson Mandela, former British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Tony Blair, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the Tuskegee Airmen, World War II Native American Code Talkers the World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) and Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King.