(TriceEdney Wire) – The four little girls who were killed by a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan at Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church nearly 50 years ago have been officially proclaimed as American heroes.
President Barack Obama has signed into law, H. R. 360, “which provides for the presentation of a congressional gold medal to commemorate the lives of the four young African-American victims of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church” in Birmingham, Ala. on September 15, 1963. It is one of the nation’s highest civilian awards.
Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14 died inside their Sunday school classrooms when the dynamite, exploded by a timer. As victims of violence during the historic civil rights movement, they are among the youngest to ever receive the Congressional Gold Medal. They join other recipients such as Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Jackie Robinson, the Tuskegee Airmen, Sen. Robert Kennedy, Gen. Colin Powell and South Africa President Nelson Mandela.
Surrounded by their family during the signing ceremony in the Oval Office May 24, President Obama said, “That tragic loss, that heartbreak helped to trigger triumph and a more justice and equal and fair America. This is a great privilege for me.”
Upon the unanimous passage of the bill on April 24, U. S. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-Ga.), an original sponsor, described the girls as “bright stars in the constellation shining down now as beacons of light for freedom and justice” and “four young martyrs in the fight for freedom.”
Twenty-two other people were injured in the blast that day. The historic church was a meeting place for civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in their work for voter registration of African-Americans. The bombing happened just two weeks after the August 28, 1963 March on Washington; therefore is viewed as a catalyst for the escalation of the Civil Rights Movement.
Giving their eulogy, Dr. King said, “These children – unoffending; innocent and beautiful- were the victims of one of the most vicious, heinous crimes ever perpetrated against humanity; yet they died nobly. They are martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.”