It’s been nearly 50 years since four young girls were killed after members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb at their Sunday school in Birmingham, Ala., simply because of the color of their skin. But five decades later, lawmakers have moved one step closer to posthumously awarding the “four little girls,” as they are known by some, with the Congressional Gold Medal, proving that their memory remains seared into our national consciousness.
“These children, unoffending, innocent, and beautiful were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” said the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a eulogy for the four children–Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14. “They died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.”
The girls were killed the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, in a bombing that also injured 22 other churchgoers. It wasn’t until 2000 that the FBI announced the attack had been carried out by the Ku Klux Klan and arrested the remaining suspects, who were later convicted.
The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to approve a bill honoring the four girls by posthumously awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors. The measure is co-sponsored by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., a former classmate of President Obama’s at Harvard Law School, and Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., who have both been pushing for the honor since earlier this year. Once the bill is approved by the House and Senate and signed by the president, the girls could receive the award by Sept. 15 of this year–50 years to the day they were killed in one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement.
“It’s really a long overdue recognition,” said Sewell on msnbc Wednesday. “We thought it was very important and befitting that we acknowledge and honor the lives of [the girls]…This particular medal, I think, while it can’t bring back the lives of those that were lost, it is an effort on our part to really acknowledge nationally the sacrifices that these families have made.”
Dianne Braddock, the older sister of Carole Robertson, one of the Birmingham victims, watched the vote Wednesday from the House Gallery along with other family members of the victims. In an interview Tuesday with the Washington Post, Braddock called the measure a “meaningful recognition,” one that will show the girls “didn’t die in vain.”
“I’m very elated. I’m happy,” said Braddock on msnbc Wednesday, prior to the vote. “I’m hoping that the whole world will rejoice if this congressional medal is awarded…It’s a wonderful recognition.”
Watch the full interview with Rep. Terri Sewell and Dianne Braddock below: