Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi took to the House floor today in support of a resolution awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, the four girls who were killed 50 years ago in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
“Thank you Mr. Speaker. I thank our distinguished colleague, Congresswoman Sewell, for yielding. As you can see there are many of us who are very eager – Congressman, our distinguished Democratic Whip Mr. Hoyer and I have had the privilege, he more than I, to travel to Alabama with John Lewis. And thank you this morning for informing the Members that, that was, that’s a transformative experience. Anybody who travels there and sees what happened in the lifetime of many of us here, and certainly in the lifetime of everyone’s parents here in our very own country, cannot help but be moved. So, I’m pleased to be joining you, Congresswoman Sewell, Mr. Bonner, my friend – where did he go? Thank you Mr. Chairman, Mr. Bauchus, and Mr. Hoyer, and other colleagues, in coming to the floor – Mr. Bishop.
“Mr. Speaker, as we are all acknowledging, fifty years ago, on a Sunday morning, four precious little girls walked into the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the same day they did every week. These four little girls were there for Sunday School. They were not civil rights activists; they were not agitators or advocates. They had simply come to church to learn, to pray, to be with their friends and classmates. When you visit there you see, they didn’t really have a chance. They were in such close quarters when they went down those steps and the rest. These four little girls did not enter their church seeking to become symbols of a struggle of equality; yet, in a moment of brutal, horrific, unspeakable tragedy, they would become icons of a movement for justice.
“The names Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley remain seared in the hearts and minds of us today as painful reminders of a dark moment in our history. For their families, for their friends, for their loved ones, their loss in a bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church would change their world forever. Yet, even at the time of great change across the country, little did we know that their deaths would change our world forever.
“Among the many milestones of the civil rights movement, September 15, 1963, may be bestowed with some of the greatest pain and anguish. But it was on that day, as this resolution states, that ‘the world took notice of the violence inflicted in the struggle for equal rights.’ It was that day that stirred the conscience of our nation, galvanized the forces of justice, and spurred the momentum to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act – landmark steps in righting the wrongs in our country’s past. It was on that day that the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church became a symbol in the cause of human rights and human dignity, from the streets of Birmingham to the communities nationwide. It was that day that once again reinforced what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just weeks earlier, called the ‘fierce urgency of now.’
“These four girls made the ultimate sacrifice in the battle for civil rights, joining too many fellow Americans in paying for freedom with their lives. This weekend, I will join the Southern Poverty Law Center to rename and rededicate the Civil Rights Memorial [Theater] in Montgomery, Alabama. This memorial is a tribute to 40 individuals killed during the struggle; it is a place to remember the fallen, to take heed of their message, to deepen our understanding and to renew our commitment to equal rights under the law.
“They were four small little children going to church; four students, four daughters, four members of a tight-knit community in Birmingham; four lives ended too soon; four victims to the forces of hatred and prejudice, racism and injustice. Their senseless and premature deaths ignited the fires of progress, fanned the flames of equality. As the resolution declares, and I thank the gentle lady, one of our new Members, not brand new, but newer Members of Congress, for coming here and joining with colleagues – Mr. Bauchus, Mr. Bonner, certainly John Lewis and Members of Congress not representing Alabama, but from Alabama. As the resolution that she presents declares: ‘the legacy that these four little black girls left will live on in the minds and hearts of us all for generations to come.’ To honor that legacy, to cherish their memories, to inscribe their names once more in the pages of history, it is only fitting for Congress to bestow our highest civilian honor, the highest honor that Congress can bestow on a civilian, the Congressional Gold Medal, on these four young Americans. That will be a glorious day in the Capitol, when we all come together under the rotunda, under the dome of the Capitol to remember them.
“I hope that is a comfort to their families. They gave so much, so much sprang from that, and we will always remember. With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.”