The explosion killed the four girls, injured 22 other people, and severely damaged the church. King travelled to Birmingham and delivered a powerful eulogy for the children. Three Ku Klux Klansmen were eventually convicted of the church bombing.
“These children-unoffending, innocent, and beautiful – were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” King said. “And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.”
He added that the deceased girls have “something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who had fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans.”
The Gold Medal award legislation, co-sponsored by all seven members of Alabama’s congressional delegation, coincides with a year-long 50th anniversary reflection by Birmingham of its role in the civil rights struggle.
“We recognize that we have a great burden on our shoulders to make sure that we take the past 50 years and look forward to the next 50 years and see who can we inspire (and) how can we get young people in touch with their past so they can have a stronger future,” Birmingham Mayor William Bell told reporters at Washington’s National Press Club on Tuesday.
Introducing the bill Wednesday is just the first step for Sewell, Bachus and the rest of Alabama’s congressional delegation to secure the award for the girls. The legislation must be co-sponsored by at least two-thirds – 290 – members of the House. At least 67 senators in the 100-member Senate must co-sponsor the bill before that body can consider it. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama is working to make that happen.
“On the 50th anniversary of this tragedy, I believe this is an appropriate way to honor the memories of the victims,” Shelby told USA Today.