BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — More than 290 members of Congress have signed a resolution requesting a Congressional Gold Medal for the four girls killed in Birmingham’s 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
That number means there are enough members of the House to move the measure forward. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, and Spencer Bachus R-Vestavia Hills, are the bill sponsors, which was introduced Jan. 23.
Sewell, Mayor William Bell and officials from Bachus’ office had earlier announced efforts to seek the medal this year, the 50th anniversary of the bombing.
The Sunday morning bombing killed 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.
Outrage over the church’s bombing and deaths of the girls who were attending Sunday school created national outrage and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights of 1965.
Both Sewell and Bachus have taken to the House floor in support of the bill, urging support.
Congress has issued gold medals since the American Revolution that are awarded to honor distinguished achievements and contributions. Approval requires a supermajority from both the House and Senate.
The Senate companion bill was introduced Jan. 30 and sponsored by Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions who are currently working to secure the necessary two-thirds majority needed to pass the Senate.
“It is significant how deep the bipartisan support is for awarding this high honor to four lovely and innocent young girls whose legacy led to permanent change for the better in Alabama and our society,” Bachus said in a statement this afternoon. “From our vantage point 50 years later, we see clearly how an act of evil done at a house of God in downtown Birmingham stirred the consciences of decent people everywhere and resulted in landmark civil rights achievements.”
Sewell called the girls emblematic of many who were killed during the civil rights era. That includes Virgil Ware and James Johnny Robinson who were killed in Birmingham within hours of the church bombing.
Two white youth shot 13-year-old Virgil Ware as he rode his bicycle with his brother after just securing a paper route, and 16-year-old Johnny Robinson was shot by police during a protest also on the same day of the fatal church bombing.
“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,” Sewell said.
Each medal honors a particular individual, institution, or event, according to the House of Representatives official website. Congress broadened the scope of the medals to include a variety of categories including: actors, authors, entertainers, lifesavers, notables in science and medicine, humanitarians and public servants.