House votes to honor Birmingham bombing victims

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to award the Congressional Gold medal to the four girls killed in the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church in 1963. Their surviving family members expressed mixed feelings about the award.

REUTERS/Verna Gates
Sarah Collins Rudolph stands beside her suburban home in Forestdale, Alabama. Rudolph, who survived a 1963 church bombing that killed her sister and three other black girls, said she will not accept a medal that Congress may award posthumously to the victims.

Four young victims of a deadly Alabama church bombing that marked one of the darkest moments of the civil rights movement are one step closer to receiving Congress' highest civilian honor.

By a 420-0 vote, the House on Wednesday passed a measure that posthumously would award the Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair.

The girls were killed when a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963. The measure will now be considered by the Senate.

The House effort was led by Alabama Reps. Terri Sewell, a Democrat, and Spencer Bachus, a Republican. The two represent Birmingham and presented Wednesday's vote as a way to honor the legacy of the victims.

"It was there blood which was shed for the bounty that so many of us now enjoy," Sewell said.

Bachus said the tragedy pushed the civil rights movement forward and honoring its victims was the correct way to commemorate their legacy.

While Congress has shown broad support for awarding the medal, the idea has split relatives of the four victims. Some are supportive but others are seeking financial compensation.

The sisters of two of the victims, Denise McNair and Carol Robertson, sat in the House gallery to watch the vote, with Sewell noting their presence after the vote and asking members to applaud them.

Relatives of Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley, also known as Cynthia Morris, have both said they do not want the congressional honor.

Addie Mae's sister Sarah, was critically injured in the bombing, losing an eye, though she recovered and later married. In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Sarah Collins Rudolph said she is now seeking millions in financial compensation and would not accept the medal.

"I can't spend a medal," she told the AP.

Cynthia Wesley's brother, Fate Morris, said he also wants compensation and isn't interested in accepting a medal for his sister.

September will mark the 50th anniversary of the church bombing. Three KKK members were convicted years after the attack. Two are dead, with one is still in prison.

Past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include Jackie Robinson, former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, and Pope John Paul II.

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