An Honor for Four Little Girls in Birmingham

fourgirlsOn April 16, there was widespread recognition and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the eloquently crafted “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr.  And yesterday the House of Representatives voted to approve a bill that would recognize the four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963 with the annual Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.  The violence of bombs and explosions, the terror and fear that lives on after such violent acts take a long time to heal. The Congressional Medal even 50 years later is part of the nation’s healing.

That spring in 1963 from a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than any other city in this nation.”

That same year on one September Sunday morning, the girls were attending their regular Sunday school class when a bomb was thrown from a car into the church. The bomb was so powerful that it blew up a wall and sent stone and trash flying throughout the church.  When the dust and debris settled, the bodies of Denise McNair, 11; Carol Robertson, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14, and Addie Mae Collins, 10 were discovered.

Dianne Braddock, the older sister of Carole Robertson and other family members watched the vote on Wednesday in Washington, DC and said that it was a “meaningful recognition,” that demonstrates the four girls “didn’t die in vain.”

Some 290 members of Congress have signed the resolution and it now moves to the Senate and to the President for his signature. The measure passed, 420-0. The award will be presented on Sunday Sept. 15 exactly 50 years to the date they were killed. Twenty-two other members of the church were injured in the bombing.

As we honor the Birmingham victims we remember the victims of the Boston Marathon and West, Texas and pledge to embrace King’s legacy of nonviolence.

Through the rubble of hate, may we learn the principles, teach the principles and live the principles of nonviolence that are our best hope for real peace.