4 Little GirlsSpike Lee’s 1997 seminal documentary “Four Little Girls” recounts the tragic Birmingham, Ala. church bombing that took the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. Their sudden, tragic deaths rank as one of the cloudiest moments in the Civil Rights Movement and a bipartisan delegate of congressmen want the United States to recognize their involuntary sacrifice.

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala. is leading a legislation to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on these children and their families in honor of their lives and legacies. Other Alabama legislators are supporting her push, including Rep. Spencer Bachus and Sen. Richard Shelby.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress; it was first given to George Washington in 1776 and was last awarded to all of the families who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Sewell thinks the four little girls are deserving of this honor because their lives were significant in drawing attention to the social injustices in the South.

“These four little girls represent a powerful symbol of our quest for freedom and equality,” she told USA Today. “This is really an opportunity, I believe, for us to embrace our history and — though painful — be able to put it in a context of the national and global human rights movement.”

Sewell and other supporters of the legislation face an uphill battle in having the Congressional Gold Medal awarded. Two-thirds of House and Senate members have to co-sponsor the legislation before Congress will consider the proposal and vote on issuing the medals.

Bachus and Shelby are leveraging their positions in the House and Senate to rally support for the bill, but culture critic Tavis Smiley worries that this won’t be enough. He writes in a Huffington Post op-ed about the struggle he faced to have Rosa Parks honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.

“You would think an effort to honor the woman regarded as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement would have been an easy task. Hardly. It was a tough fight,” he writes. “Over the radio I would do a daily roll call of every member of Congress who had not signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation to honor Mrs. Parks.”

Over time, Smiley’s insistent efforts were rewarded. He writes, “One by one, our advocacy efforts were moving us closer to getting the long overdue recognition and respect that Mrs. Parks had long ago earned and richly deserved.”

Eventually Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and is now a permanent fixture in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol.

Smiley thinks the advancement of digital technologies gives legislators and citizens an advantage in this fight for the four little girls from Birmingham. He encourages black Americans to use Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites to reach our congressional leaders on this issue.

“Black radio, the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook. However you communicate, spread the word. Time is of the essence,” he writes.

Birmingham, Ala. mayor William Bell is also imploring Congress to act to inspire the next generation of leaders and activists.

“When I think of the four little girls who were killed … it’s a responsibility on my shoulders … to make sure we live out their dreams and live out their hopes and pass that on to the next generation,” he said in a January press conference.

If the Congressional Gold Medal is awarded to Collins, Robinson, Wesley and McNair, it will align with the 50 anniversary of their deaths and a yearlong commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sums up the importance of cherishing their lives and legacies in a speech he delivered in Birmingham after their deaths.

“These children — unoffending; innocent and beautiful — were the victims of one of the most vicious, heinous crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” he said. “Yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were on the mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well.”

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  • LadyP

    This recognition is way overdue! We have to spread the word and never give up until these four angels are awarded this medal. Very well deserving..

  • Barbara

    Perhaps we can ask Condolezza Rice to help out, since one of the girls was her childhood friend.

    I will do my part and pass along this information to friends who are unaware of the effort being put forth to get the Medal for these four little darlings.

    I believe it will get done. We did the Martin Luther King Holiday, the MLK Statue on the Mall, and Rosa Parks Bust dedication just recently. So, I’m very hopeful that we can do this too.

    • marie hall

      My name is Marie Hall Mullen. I grew up in B’ham, Alabama, lived in Smithfield, and attended Parker High School. I lived on 2nd Street North. I hope that I have reached the right person. You have three sisters Yoland, Carolyn, and Anne. Yoland and I were good friends. I am now an upcoming playwright. I would like to talk to you and I would like to reach Yoland, if possible. Please email me, if I have reached the right Oscar Beard. Well, I would appreciate it if you would contact me if you are not the right person so that I will continue my search. I do think that you are the person that I’m looking for after reading your comment. If you are Yoland’s brother,I
      think that you will be interested in the project that I am currently working on.

  • I was residing with a White family near Princeton, New Jersey when the eldest child of that Quaker family presented me with the newspaper headline of the murder of my four Sunday School classmates. I was in the second wave of participants in the American Friends Service Committee’s Southern Negro Student Project, which placed Southern Negro students with White families in the North and East of the U.S. as a kind of cross-cultural or interracial “experiment” if you will. Angela Davis had been the first to be placed, the previous year. My reaction to the shocking news – having to an extent already succumb to the overwhelming friendliness of Whites in Princeton and surrounding communities – was quite costly. I really showed no reaction to the news at all. I suppose I was still not ready to allow a White person to see my pain. This led to many years of denial, unresolved anger, psychic pain and personal destructiveness. It would have been “nice” if I could have just faced the pain that day in September of 1963. The fact is that that event and others prior to it in Birmingham and the world at large, motivated me to research our situation in this country. The question is, why were the four little girls even physically present in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963 to be murdered? They were there because their ancestors were captured by force of arms and removed by force from their domiciles of origin in Africa, illegally transported across seas to a forced jurisdiction in the United States where they were made physical slaves by force of arms. So the U.S. is just as implicated in this heinous crime as is the Alabama Klan. The only reason U.S. African Slave Descendants have not been paid Reparations for U.S. Slavery – some survivors in this case desired financial compemsation for the crimes – is that there has yet to be an effective demand. Every people who has made an effective demand has been paid by the U.S. The fact there has not yet been an effective demand by U.S. African Slave Descendants rather speaks to the effectiveness of the crime and speaks to why it is so relativey “easy” to make apologies without payment and to present gold medals to the dead. There is no historical precedent for Reparations having been paid without an effective demand.